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Blackhawks Fri Dec 17 2010

Hawks Ready for Red Wings, Chelios Ceremony

Thumbnail image for blackhawks.gifAfter dropping three straight games to fall well off the pace in the Western Conference, the last thing the Blackhawks want to see is their hated rivals from Detroit, the conference-leading Red Wings. To make matters worse, after saying there was a chance he'd return to the lineup tonight, Patrick Kane suffered a setback with his ankle injury and will miss the game after all.

With Kane, Marian Hossa and now Viktor Stalberg (who was injured on a hit from behind Wednesday) all expected to miss the game, an already struggling Hawks team finds themselves still shorthanded, though Fernando Pisani is expected back after missing the past eight games.

Pisani's return should matter little against the Wings, who enter the game first in the Western Conference with 43 points and mostly healthy (new acquisition Mike Modano is out until March) after having their own injury issues last season. Detroit is always a tough opponent that uses puck-handling skills and patience to wear down teams and capitalize on their mistakes. With the way the Blackhawks defense has been playing lately, the Wings should be salivating at the opportunities the Hawks seem all too willing to provide. That said, there's always an extra spark of energy in the air when these two teams get together, and the Blackhawks may have some added motivation to step up their play.

Also providing some theatrics to the evening will be the Heritage night for recently (and finally!) retired Chris Chelios. Cheli will drop the ceremonial first puck and have video tributes aired during intermissions of the game, in what figures to cause a bit of a mixed reaction in the stands, given Chelios spent his final 10 seasons as a Red Wing after nine years with the Hawks. (We'll just ignore his seven games with the Atlanta Thrashers last season). However, such a reaction would be misguided.

I hated Chelios on the Wings as much as any other Hawks fan, but that's entirely because that's the kind of player he is: Love the guy when he's on your team, but can't stand him as an opponent, especially when he's with your biggest rivals. But history has apparently forgotten the Chicago native ended up in Detroit only because the Blackhawks sent him there in 1999, one of the final moves in the destruction of a popular and successful team. The Hawks were a shell of an organization by the time he left.

In those nine years in Chicago, Chelios was the definitive leader of the franchise and a force to be reckoned with on the blue line. He won two Norris trophies, made the all-star team every year and set a franchise record for penalty minutes by a defenseman with 1,495. He was tenacious and gritty, but could still contribute to the score sheet; his 487 career points rank third all-time among Hawks defensemen. He was an easy choice for the organization's 75th Anniversary Team.

On top of that, it's amazing to see the overall career Chelios put together. He played 26 seasons, and was the second-oldest active player ever (behind Gordie Howe) when he joined the Thrashers at 48. He played 1,651 games, fourth in NHL history and more than any other American. And until his last two seasons, he was still a valuable contributor to the blue line and the penalty kill despite playing against players half his age.

So while it was painful to see Chelios as part of a Detroit organization that was dominating the Hawks until recently (and in fact, he now works as a member of the Wings front office), his Chicago career and overall NHL excellence deserve accolades.

Cheer for the hometown hero who defined the Hawks for the decade of the '90s, or at the least cheer for someone who got to do what they love for a lot longer than most people are be able to. No matter what, it's safe to say that Chicago, and the NHL, won't see another player like Chelios soon.

 
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