Chris Chelios is the greatest American-born defenseman to play in the NHL. He may be the greatest American to ever play hockey at any position. Chelios spent 26 seasons in the NHL, breaking in with the Montreal Canadians at age 22 in 1984, winning numerous accolades along the way, and finally retiring at age 48 in 2010.
Also, Chris Chelios is my favorite hockey player of all-time. So, I am not sure why it took me this long to review “Chris Chelios: Made in America,” penned by Chelios and former USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen in 2014. Nor can I guarantee that this will be a totally unbiased review of his book.
Regardless of how you feel about Chelios — hockey fans either loved him or hated him for his physical, almost reckless style of play — his book is an enjoyable memoir of his storied career.
Chelios starts that story with his childhood, first in Chicago and later in San Diego. His story could have ended there, if not for a lie that he told to save his career. Up until then, Chelios had only played forward, but he told a coach that he was a defenseman so that he could gain a roster spot on a Junior A team. For the next 30 years, Chelios thrived at defense as a junior, collegiate and pro player.
While “Made in America” is mainly in chronological order, Chelios liberally skips around the timeline. He may first tell a story from his time in Montreal, segue into a story from playing in Chicago, then mosey back to Montreal in his narrative. He also doesn’t get caught up in the minutiae of his career, focusing on either the high points or memorable stories about himself and his teammates.
Excerpt that epitomizes “Made in America”: Broken hands heal. Fingers heal. The pain that comes from losing does not. It’s true that I once came into the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room between periods and asked who was going to step up and “break Brett Hull’s arm.” Hullie was a good friend of mine, and yet I would have knocked him out under the right circumstances. Friendships cease to exist in the NHL postseason. That’s the way I played.
What I like about “Made in America”: Chelios gives his honest opinion on many hockey personalities, such as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and former coach Mike Keenan. He talks about his friendship with Michael Jordan, Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk and others. Chelios also gives the truth about what led to his trade from Chicago to Detroit, how it affected him mentally and emotionally, and why his last season in the NHL was less-than-memorable.
What I do not like about “Made in America”: There isn’t much to dislike, but maybe it could have been longer than 272 pages, considering that Chelios’ pro career lasted 26 seasons. For example, his seven years with Montreal are pretty much summed up in one 19-page chapter, with some seasons entirely skipped. Then again, there’s nary a dull moment here, so perhaps what is included is more important than what is not.
“Chris Chelios: Made in America” is a quick read of a long career. The tone of the book is upbeat and conversational. Love him or hate him, Chelios tells a great story. ■
Follow Sal Barry on Twitter @PuckJunk.