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Old Man Chelios Returns

January 15, 2006|From the Associated Press

DETROIT — When Chris Chelios suits up for Team USA at the Turin Olympics, he will be 44. And by the time most of his teammates arrive at the dressing room each day, Chelios likely already will have finished a cup of coffee and sat in the sauna.

"Some guys show up when you tell them to, like two hours before a game or a practice, but Chelios will be there three or four hours earlier than that," Team USA general manager Don Waddell said Thursday. "I wish all players in the NHL had the passion and drive that Chris Chelios has for the game."

Chelios, a Detroit Red Wings defenseman, made his Olympic debut as an amateur in 1984 and returned in 1998 and 2002 as a captain when NHL players were allowed to participate.

Keith Tkachuk and Chelios will be the first four-time Olympians in U.S. hockey history as they shoot for the team's first Olympic gold medal since 1980. Chelios, who was born Jan. 25, 1962, will become the third-oldest player in Olympic hockey history.

"If we have success, maybe they'll ask me back a fifth time," Chelios joked. "If not, maybe I'll give the Senior Olympics a shot.

"I never thought I'd be playing at this age, but now I can't imagine being done."

Forward Doug Weight is glad he doesn't have to envision going for gold without Chelios.

"He's a guy everybody looks up to because of his personality and the way he loves the game," Weight said. "He has earned so much respect because he's won Stanley Cups, and he's played at such a high level forever because of the way he takes care of himself."

Chelios' physique is chiseled, even as gray hairs surface on his head and face. The NHL's oldest player deflects credit for his longevity to those who help him train near his offseason home in Los Angeles -- and to luck.

"When my trainer started training younger guys like Rob Blake, I found new things to do and new guys to work out with in addition to working out with him," Chelios said. "I don't tell anybody some of the things I do, that's my ace in the hole.

"I do some really different stuff with Laird Hamilton, a big-time surfer, and Don Wildman, a 73-year-old guy, who started Bally's."

Chelios has such a passion for hockey -- and an aversion to sitting still -- he played 23 games for the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League last season during the NHL lockout.

The three-time Norris Trophy winner -- given to the NHL's top defenseman -- and 11-time All-Star signed a one-year contract last summer, returning to Detroit for a seventh season and his 22nd in the league, hoping to win his third Stanley Cup.

Chelios has been on the ice more than expected because the Red Wings have been without Jiri Fisher (heart ailment) and Nicklas Kronwall (knee).

Chelios was honored as the top defenseman four years ago after the U.S. lost the gold-medal match to Canada. In 1998, the team finished well out of the medal round and left Japan in disgrace after causing property damage.

"The key in Salt Lake was we got off to a good start, and rode that momentum," Chelios said. "We never got off to a good start in Nagano, and it got worse. We don't need a miracle to win the gold in Turin."

Like he was at 22, Chelios was overcome with nervous energy when he found out in December he had been chosen as an Olympian.

"The first couple of days after it was announced, I had jitters and was so excited I couldn't sleep," Chelios said. "As it gets closer, I'm sure I'll start losing sleep again and start worrying.

"When you're playing in the NHL, only hockey fans watch and only your city roots for you. When you're at the Olympics, everybody is watching and the whole country is pulling for you. There's nothing like it."

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