Cheli and Montreal embrace
So when the Detroit Red Wings finished beating the host Canadiens, Tuesday night, that the local media gave Chelios the game's third star had as much to do with what happened 20 years ago as with what happened two nights ago.
At 45, Chelios might not have many more games left to play in Montreal. He might not have any. With the newly adopted schedule calling for the Red Wings to play a home-and-home series with just three Eastern Conference teams next season, the chance that Detroit will have a game in Montreal next winter is 60 percent.
So giving Chelios the third star in Tuesday's 4-1 Detroit victory was a way to give the legend a way to take a curtain call in front of the fans who cheered for him for seven years.
"It's pretty tough to say goodbye," said Chelios, who mentioned after the game that he was planning a post-game curtain call before hearing his name called as a game star. "Hopefully, that's not it. But I appreciate the ovation before and after the game. My family and my parents thank them from the bottom of my heart."
Before the game, Chelios was part of a celebration of the rivalry between Montreal and Detroit. Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay were called out to center ice as old game highlights played. Jean Beliveau and Dickie Moore came out as well.
Chelios received a loud ovation from the Montreal fans, second only to Beliveau. Chelios started his NHL career in Montreal, winning a Stanley Cup in 1986. He then became part of the downfall of hockey's most famous franchise, being traded in 1990 for Denis Savard.
Savard now coaches in the NHL. Chelios is in his 17th season since leaving Montreal.
"We're a big believer in Detroit that you put people out to pasture too soon," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "The world says you turn 65 and retire. That's not what happens in Detroit. You just keep on playing as long as you make a contribution."
Babcock, however, couldn't resist poking fun at Chelios, who is a year older than his coach. Babcock smiled at the thought of Chelios standing with Beliveau, Howe and Lindsay.
"For him to actually be in his age group for once with those guys out there was nice," said Babcock.
On the same day that Pittsburgh waived 39-year-old Mark Recchi, the fans of Montreal got to pay tribute to Chelios, the man who seems to be cheating time.
The majority of the sold-out crowd was still around even though their team had just been dominated by the Red Wings.
("Cheli had good celebration before the game … We want to keep Cheli happy," said Pavel Datsyuk of the victory.)
When Chelios came out as the third star, the people cheered loudly. Chelios waved. He looked like a man who given a chance to say a sincere thank you.
"I think after all this time, whatever was left there has turned to like now. I can't thank the people enough for being so classy, so gracious," said Chelios. "I couldn't have been any luckier as a young player entering the league with a team like Montreal and just being groomed, taught how to approach it and take care of myself and to represent this game as well as I can."