Detroit Red Wings
Clear Bag Policy Follow @DetroitRedWings on Twitter! Follow the Red Wings on Facebook! Follow @DetroitRedWings on Instagram! Follow OfficialDRW on Snapchat! Get Red Wings Email Updates Get Red Wings Text Updates Get the Detroit Red Wings Official Mobile App

  • RSS

Leetch: Chelios was Captain America

His conditioning allowed him to have such an intense compete level

Saturday, 11.9.2013 / 10:25 AM ET / Features
By Brian Leetch  - Special to
Share with your Friends

Leetch: Chelios was Captain America

Brian Leetch and Chris Chelios were stalwart defensemen on United States national teams, winning the gold medal at the 1996 World Cup and a silver medal at the 2002 Olympics. Leetch was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

Chris Chelios won a World Cup gold and Olympic silver for Team USA. He played produced 14 goals and 35 assists in 60 international games. (Photo by Getty Images)

I always tell people that Chris Chelios is America's version of Mark Messier.

They're similar in that they love the game and have a passion for it. They love to compete and winning and doing things as a group are very important to them.

They played with an edge, whether it was a stick up or a glove in the face. They would drop the gloves if they had to. You knew if you were in a competition with either of them it wasn't always going to be clean and you were going to get the worst of it because they would not back down.

Off the ice they included everybody in the locker room no matter what the team was doing or going through. Being in the best physical condition possible was very important to them, and it was hard to find anybody who conditioned his body to compete the way Chelios did.

His conditioning allowed him to have such an intense compete level.

I'll never forget practicing with the U.S. National team and we'd be doing drills such as 1-on-1s or 2-on-2s; his intent was to not let the forwards over the blue line. He would bark at them, saying, "You guys aren't coming over." He'd get the other defense pairings together and tell them, "Don't let these guys come in."

Chelios was the guy who showed me that you could be an Olympian and a top professional.

We were all influenced by the famous 1980 team. Those guys provided the younger players the belief that you can play in the Olympics and go on to have NHL careers. I was curious to see the progression into the next group in 1984 and I knew Chelios was part of it so I watched him closely. I wanted to be part of the 1988 team as badly as I wanted to be in the NHL and I knew he could be a great influence on my career.

He was.

Chelios did so well starting off in Montreal. He made the All-Star Game and the All-Rookie team in 1985. If it wasn't for Mario Lemieux he would have won the Calder Trophy too. He became a Stanley Cup champion in 1986 and won the Norris Trophy for the first time in 1989. He would win it again in 1993.

People across the League respected him so much for the style of game he played. That's how he won and collected the individual trophies. As a U.S. defenseman I always said of Chelios, "That's our guy." Once I met him I started saying, "That's our leader too."

People used to say he wasn't a great skater, but his lateral movement was so good and his first two or three steps were so quick and explosive. That was from his conditioning.

He had the combination to read the game as well as anyone and then close on players as fast as anyone and with his brand of intensity. He didn't skate like Scott Niedermayer or Paul Coffey because his strides were choppier, but his first couple steps were so explosive.

When we would do those drills in practice there were times the forwards couldn't get over the blue line because of his ability to move laterally. In games Chelios would use that ability to get forwards into spots where they had nothing they could possibly do with the puck. He could close so well and be in the right spot the second before the opponent thought he would be there.

And from there his competitiveness took over again. He would drive confrontations. You knew as an opponent you were going to get yours, and if you didn't on that shift you knew the next time you were on the ice against him he was coming faster and harder. You were getting an elbow in the face or a stick in the gut. He would finish you.

Chelios was not the biggest man on the ice, but he was in the confrontation until the end. If he got knocked down he wouldn't be down for long. He battled and he could regularly play 30 minutes a night without getting tired.

He was driven to be the best offensive defenseman too. He was underrated in that way and he knew it.

If he wasn't on the power play he would say, "These guys think I'm just a defensive defenseman." He knew he wasn't and that's why it was good when he was in Montreal and Chicago because he was relied upon to do more. And he could do it all.

Chelios had knee issues for years and played through pain. He tried everything to calm the pain down and eventually he started managing it over time. He could because of his love for the game and his commitment to conditioning.

He never lost the desire to train. He still hasn't. He hasn't lost that compete level either.




1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 54 32 16 6 150 122 70
3 NYR 54 31 18 5 153 135 67
4 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
5 DET 54 28 18 8 136 132 64
6 BOS 54 29 19 6 159 148 64
7 TBL 53 29 20 4 140 127 62
8 PIT 53 27 19 7 138 135 61
9 NJD 55 27 21 7 122 123 61
10 MTL 55 27 24 4 147 145 58
11 PHI 53 24 20 9 127 138 57
12 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
15 BUF 55 21 28 6 125 151 48
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47


D. Larkin 53 18 20 26 38
H. Zetterberg 54 10 27 4 37
T. Tatar 53 16 17 0 33
G. Nyquist 54 14 16 0 30
P. Datsyuk 39 8 21 13 29
J. Abdelkader 54 14 13 -3 27
M. Green 46 4 17 -7 21
N. Kronwall 45 3 14 -10 17
B. Richards 40 5 11 7 16
D. DeKeyser 50 7 8 13 15
P. Mrazek 21 10 4 .934 1.94
J. Howard 7 8 4 .904 2.89