GREATEST American hockey player ever.

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This article was published 11/12/2011 (3856 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GREATEST American hockey player ever.

I don't know what USA Hockey plans to say about Chris Chelios tonight. I'm not sure how the nation's governing ice hockey body will describe Chelios when it inducts him into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in his hometown of Chicago. But it doesn't get any simpler.

Chris Chelios


Chris Chelios

Greatest American hockey player ever.

There have been better U.S.-born skaters, and the truth is, Chelios struck me as one of the clunkiest skaters among great players I've ever seen.

There have been better U.S.-born passers and stick-handlers among defencemen, and there have been U.S.-born players with harder shots and more goals and more points.

But there never has been a better U.S.-born player than Chelios because there never has been another American who combined skill, smarts, leadership, toughness and longevity the way Chelios did.

You want longevity? Try 26 NHL seasons and a record 24 Stanley Cup playoff seasons. Think about every great hockey player. Think about the legends. They're all behind Chelios when it comes to invitations to play for sport's most demanding championship.

And he wasn't a passenger in those furious springs, believe me.

Toughness? He once played 18 months with a torn knee ligament, and he still seemed to be on the ice every other shift, even-strength, power play, penalty-killing, what else you got?

Leadership? He was captain of the Blackhawks and just about every American Olympic and U.S. international team on which he played. In my time around Chelios' dressing room, he was the kind of leader who never wanted to talk much after victories when everybody was available but always stood up after losses when a lot of players hid.

Skill and smarts? This could go on a while. Three Norris Trophies as the NHL's best defenceman. Midseason All-Star. End-of-season All-Star. International All-Star. And that's just this planet.

What I came to find out about Chelios and the motivation that made him great was he feared losing more than he loved winning. Getting cut by a couple of Junior B teams can have that effect on you.

He played like a guy who believed that one mistake could cost him his career. Maybe that's why he was always out there the next shift.

And for a guy who feared losing more than he loved winning, Chelios won plenty.

He was part of three Stanley Cup champions, two in Detroit and one in Montreal. He won a national championship at the University of Wisconsin in 1983. He earned a gold medal in the 1996 Canada Cup when the children of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" beat Canada at Canada's game on Canada's ice. He skated off with a silver medal in the 2002 Olympics, although he might not know where that bauble is after Canada repaid the Yanks in Salt Lake City.

When you think about it, not only is Chelios owed the honour he will receive, but you couldn't have a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame without him. Enshrine all the players you want, and there have been some spectacular U.S.-born players who had great careers, but it would feel empty without Chelios. That's just the way it is.

So, you also might want to ask why something so obvious took so long. Because Chelios had refused to stop playing for almost three decades, that's why. They could've done this 10 years ago, but he just wouldn't get off the ice.

Passion for the game. I forgot to list that among Chelios' defining traits, and you know what? That just might be the most important reason Chelios is the greatest American hockey player ever.

-- Chicago Tribune