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At Wrigley Field: Chris Chelios comes full circle (sort of)

December 31, 2008 |  3:00 pm

Chris Chelios at Wrigley Field today.

CHICAGO -- Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios is the ideal choice to play in Thursday's NHL Winter Classic against the Chicago Blackhawks because he's so old, he could have been there when cavemen played the first outdoor hockey game.

Not quite, but close. Chelios will be 47 in a few weeks and has more than a few gray hairs in his sideburns. But he said he felt like a kid Wednesday when the Red Wings practiced on the temporary rink set up in Wrigley Field.

"Thank God I came back from injury a couple weeks ago," said Chelios, who broke a bone in his leg during a preseason game. "I haven't missed too much in my career. I've been very fortunate, in that sense, to be able to do this. ... It's another experience me and my family won't forget."

Chelios, who said he had been told he will play for the defending Stanley Cup champions on Thursday, said the glare from the sun during Wednesday's practice was "strange" and required some adjustment. He wore eye black to minimize the effects and said he would again wear the stuff under his eyes on game day.

"For a while there the puck was coming off your stick differently," he said, "but the more we got used to it the more we got into the practice and felt comfortable."

He also said he didn't mind the path to the visitors' dressing room, which involved a long walk on the field and a formidable flight of stairs. But he's old enough to have a frame of reference there: he played at Chicago Stadium, which had stairs leading up to the ice.

"It's no big deal," he said. "It probably beats the stairs going up to the old stadium."

He has refused to discuss retirement but said he's "real lucky to be a part of this, especially coming towards the end of my career." He hastily backtracked, insisting this isn't the end "by a long shot.

"But if it is, this is a good way, one of the good things to end it, to be able to do this. I'm not going to make any all-star teams so this is the next best thing."

Red Wings Coach Mike Babcock, who's 16 months younger than Chelios, also said he felt like a youngster on the outdoor rink. He dressed like one, too, wearing one of those knit hats that Canadians call touques, the ones you jam over your head to cover your ears. His touque had the retro "D" logo that will be on the uniforms the Red Wings will wear Thursday.

This outdoor contest, he said, is "important for selling the game, and I think the attention that it gets, not just from your hockey fan but from everybody, is fantastic ... for a group like ours, a veteran group that's been through what we have the last year and a half, it's something to get excited about." 

How long has Chelios been around? Here is a clip of a brawl from 1987 that began with the Flyers' goaltender Ron Hextall (now assistant GM with the KIngs) attacking Chelios, who was then with the Montreal Canadiens.

--Helene Elliott

Top photo: Chris Chelios walks to the ice for a team practice Wednesday at Wrigley Field. Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images