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Jay Greenberg
January 08, 1990
Award-winning Chris Chelios of Montreal is a nasty cuss on the ice, but playing the role of a parent has helped him develop a softer side
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January 08, 1990

Daddy Dearest

Award-winning Chris Chelios of Montreal is a nasty cuss on the ice, but playing the role of a parent has helped him develop a softer side

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If Dean Chelios could understand all the things that have been said about his father, he would be outraged. For now, however, he is comfortably ensconced in Daddy's arms and only mildly curious about the flashbulb going off in his face. Dean is having his picture taken in a restaurant inside the Montreal Forum, where at the age of five months he is already one of the regulars.

The Kid, as Dean is called by his father, Chris, goes most everywhere with his old man. "I don't sleep late in the mornings," says Chris, the Canadiens' star defenseman, "and he's always in such a good mood then. So I'm up with him and take him out for a walk and then over to the rink. There's always somebody who will hold him during practice later in the morning."

The Forum is not far from the Chelios home in Westmount, a section of Montreal that features shade trees and well-kept old brick houses and looks unlike the kind of place a young, $800,000-a-year hockey player would want to call home. "I love to be close to the rink," says Chelios. "I live for hockey, and I can jog over there in 10 minutes if I want to work out. If I moved out to the West Island [a trendy suburb where most of his teammates live], I'm scared I'd get lazy."

Of all the things Chelios, 27, has been called, lazy is not among them. Even his critics, of which there are many, and his enemies, of which there may be almost as many, have never failed to acknowledge the talent that won him the Norris Trophy last season as the NHL's best defenseman. He possesses all the requisite skills—a low, heavy shot off a quick release, a mobility that enables him to move up into the offense and a willingness to take a good hard shoulder.

Throughout his career he also has been known as a borderline dirty player—not a thug exactly but a guy who likes to use his stick and his elbows on others. What's more, he has a reputation for carousing into the wee hours in a city known for such pursuits. All the more wonder then that the defenseman of the year has suddenly turned into the father of the year.

"Chris is a very caring person," says an old friend, right wing Chris Nilan, who was traded from the Canadiens to the New York Rangers in 1988. "He's the kind of guy who always calls old friends he played with. He'd do anything for you."

Chelios even does diapers. "The Kid has changed me," he says. "You know when I realized I wasn't 21 or 22 anymore? The other night when I was at [teammate and former late-night running mate] Petr Svoboda's house and we were both feeding our babies. You can't get up and just leave [your responsibilities] anymore, but I had my fun. I'd just as soon have five kids and run around all day with them."

In those years in which Montreal fails to win the Stanley Cup, so great is the civic disappointment that most of the Canadiens leave town quickly. Montreal doesn't much care for losing hockey teams. If you're a player, it's best to pack up and get out of town until the heat dies down.

The season before last, less than 36 hours after the Boston Bruins eliminated the Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs, Chelios and his wife, Tracee, were in an airport cab before dawn, leaving Montreal on their way to a vacation in Florida. They were thinking how smart they were to be making a getaway without being seen, when the driver recognized Chris and held up a copy of one of the local newspapers. "Chelios!" he said. "It says here, you are going to be traded. Packed light, didn't you?"

"The obsession here with the Canadiens is unbelievable," says Chelios, who is in his sixth full season with the team. "I'm stopped at a red light one day, and I see this drunk stagger, fall and cut his head open on the cement. I get out of the car and help the guy up. He opens his eyes, looks at me and says, 'Chelios!' I mean, holy smokes, everybody knows you."

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