“I grew up in Chicago. I know how much Detroit fans hate Chicago and vice versa. I get it,” Chelios said about two of his former teams who will play each other twice in three days at United Center starting Friday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSCH, FS-D, NHL.TV), and again on Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, TVAS).
They will play each other six more times this season.
“Those teams are going to be sick of each other after just a few games, the back to backs,” Chelios said, almost wistfully.
The NHL’s realignment for this 56-game season brings the Blackhawks and Red Wings back together into the eight-team Discover Central Division. This marks the 47th season they’ve played in the same division, the first since their run of 31 straight seasons together in either the American, East, Norris or Central Divisions ended in 2012-13.
The game Friday will be their 740th regular-season matchup, the most each has played against any other opponent. The Red Wings lead the all-time series with a record of 369-271-15 with 84 ties; their 2,292 goals against the Blackhawks are 391 more than against any other team. Chicago has more wins (286) and goals scored (2,040) against Detroit than any other opponent.
The Blackhawks hold a 9-7 edge in their 16 Stanley Cup Playoff series, Detroit having won the most recent (a seven-game Western Conference Second Round in 2013).
Chelios, since 2018 an ambassador for the Blackhawks with fellow team legends Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and Denis Savard, experienced love and loathing in Chicago and Detroit during his 26-season, 1,651-game NHL career.
He’d grown up in Chicago watching the superstars of the day, Blackhawks icons Hull and Stan Mikita battling Detroit’s Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio.
Chicago’s Bobby Hull (left) and Detroit’s Alex Delvecchio.
Chelios played in Chicago for nine seasons from 1990-99, traded to the Blackhawks by the Montreal Canadiens for Denis Savard on June 29, 1990. Chelios was Chicago’s captain from 1995-99, until his trade to Detroit with 10 games remaining on the 1998-99 schedule, playing nine more seasons with the Red Wings from 1999-2009.
With the Blackhawks, Chelios won the Norris Trophy twice as the NHL’s top defenseman, adding the 1993 and 1996 awards to the Norris he had won in 1989 with the Canadiens. With the Red Wings, he won Stanley Cup championships in 2002 and 2008, to go with the 1986 title won with Montreal in his third NHL season.
With Chicago, Chelios played 55 regular-season games against Detroit, scoring 26 points (five goals, 21 assists). With Detroit, he scored nine points (three goals, six assists) in 45 games against Chicago.
In the Windy City and Motor City, Chelios was hero and villain in equal measure. All that he’d done for the Blackhawks as one of the team’s most popular players was forgotten by fans when he was granted a requested trade, relocating not quite 300 miles down the road in Detroit.
Chris Chelios with the Red Wings shortly after his 1999 trade from the Blackhawks.
For years, Chelios recalls, he was heckled in Chicago for his Detroit connection; he has heard it at United Center and walking down the street, even with his family years after he retired following the 2009-10 season.
When he played, there was nothing he enjoyed more than going into Detroit with the Blackhawks “to stick it to the fans,” he recalled. “I was shocked that Chicago fans came up with that ‘Detroit (stinks)!’ chant, but I enjoyed every minute of it.”
But then came Chelios’ trade to the Red Wings. He still vividly recalls his first game back in Chicago on April 17, 1999 as a member of coach Scotty Bowman’s Red Wings, the final game of the 1998-99 regular season.
“Every time I jumped on the ice I was booed, every time I touched the puck I was booed,” he said. “I didn’t even finish the game (a 3-2 Detroit loss). Scotty told me to go to the room because I was keeping the fans in it.”
Chris Chelios hoists the 2002 Stanley Cup, the second of his career and the first of two he won with Detroit.
Chelios played 3:19 on four shifts. Bowman remembers a “very emotional night. I probably took Chris out because I felt sorry for him,” he said, laughing.
Chelios, who turns 59 on Jan. 25, would wear a bull’s-eye for Blackhawks fans for the final decade of his career, through eight years in Detroit’s front office, and beyond.
“I knew they’d be (upset) with me for Detroit but not to the extent and for how long they were. It lasted for years,” Chelios said. “Chicago began winning the Stanley Cup (in 2010, 2013 and 2015) so they started forgetting about me, which was good. Turns out since I’ve come back (as an ambassador), everybody’s been great. Walking around United Center in that role, no one’s heckling me anymore.”
The Blackhawks-Red Wings rivalry dates to the 1926-27 NHL entry of each team, when the Black Hawks were two words (until 1986) and the Detroit franchise was known as the Cougars and then the Falcons before being rebranded as the Red Wings in 1932.
Late Hall of Famer Ted Lindsay, who in the 1950s played first for the Red Wings and then the Black Hawks, to whom he was traded.
The feud has ebbed and flowed with the changing fortunes of the teams through the decades, though blood still simmers, and to this day Chelios cherishes memories of being loved and hated in Chicago and Detroit, depending on the jersey he’d pulled on.
The re-embraced Blackhawks legend doesn’t expect to be in a virtually empty United Center for the games Friday and Sunday between his old teams, the coronavirus having also closed the doors to fans from each city who in normal times would delight in this rivalry renewed.
“Eight games,” Chelios said, considering the possibilities. “It’s going to be competitive. The way the divisions are set up, no one is really going to be out of it because of the format. It puts a lot more pressure on the regular season coming out of the gate. It would be a lot better having fans in the buildings, but the players won’t have a problem getting motivated without them.”
Photos: Getty Images/HHoF Images