By Stu Hackel
Is Chris Chelios the greatest American-born player in hockey history? Good question. Perhaps he is.
Chelios will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame during a ceremony in his hometown of Chicago tonight, and he's among a truly stellar group of inductees -- perhaps the best class ever for this Hall -- that includes the highly underrated defenseman Gary Suter, power forward Keith Tkachuk, broadcaster Mike Emrick and Flyers owner Ed Snider.
In The Chicago Tribune today, Steve Rosenbloom makes the case for Chelios as the best player ever produced in the U.S., admitting that while he wasn't the greatest skater, passer, stickhandler or shooter, no one has ever combined skill, smarts, leadership, toughness and longevity the way Chelios did.
Rosenbloom elaborates on this -- it's worth reading -- and makes a very strong case for Chelly.
The greatest NHL scorer among all US-born players is Mike Modano. Although he played for Team USA during his career, Brett Hull was a dual citizen born in Ontario (that's why he and his 741 goals are ommitted from this SI.com photo gallery on the top-scoring Americans). Modano might also have been the best skater. Joey Mullen put up big numbers, too, as did Jeremy Roenick and Pat LaFontaine. Phil Housley was no slouch when it came to moving the puck and his feet. Brian Leetch was an excellent offensive force. Rod Langway and Mark Howe were as solid as any defensemen ever have been.
But Chelios was the most accomplished -- 26 seasons, three Stanley Cups, an NHL record 24 playoff seasons, three Norris Trophies, captain of both his NHL and USA international teams, eight postseason All-Star selections, fifth-most career games played, 18th all-time in plus-minus, and much more.
The only thing keeping Chelios from induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto is the mandatory three-year waiting period. He's a lock -- or should be -- when he becomes eligible in 2013.
Lokomotiv Returns: For the first time since the early September airplane disaster that wiped out the historic KHL hockey club Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the club has returned to the ice in a professional competitive setting. Playing in the second-tier VHL, the equivlent of the AHL in North America, the reformed Loko had its first game on Monday against Neftyanik Almetyevsk in Yaroslavl.
The young Lokomotiv team, hastily assembled under coach Piotr Vorobiev, who had previously managed the club, defeated "The Oilmen" 5-1.
Tickets for the game at the 9,000-seat Arena 2000 reportedly sold out in four hours.
The plan was originally announced for the team to enter VHL competition with a shortened schedule of 22 games (the full set is 53) and an automatic playoff spot. But Lokomotiv president Yury Yakovlev declined that offer, saying, “We want no presents. We want to deserve it,” and added, "The players should feel the responsibility for the final result starting from the very first game.”
So the winning percentage this team achieves will determine its ranking in the final standings.
Lokomotiv management still plans to have its team back in the KHL next season. “There is a certainty that Lokomotiv will be able to return to the KHL in a year and this team will be able to fight for the Gagarin Cup,” said Yakovlev in a story on the website of RT, the English language TV channel for news on Russia.
The return of Loko to the ice coincides with some increased focus in the media on the crash and its aftermath.
In the English language Moscow Times, Jonathan Earle has a long piece that touches on the human toll of the crash, how the loss of the players has impacted the families left to mourn and their skepticim toward the official government explanation of the cause of the crash. Brett Popplewell of Sportsnet Magazine has a lengthy article in its latest issue on the Lokomotiv tragedy and the aftermath.
And the website for RT also has a story on Stacy Dallman, the wife of former NHLer Kevin Dallman (a star in his fourth KHL season), and her efforts to raise money for the families who lost husbands and fathers in the crash. Her Lokomotiv Wives' fund has a Facebook page and can be followed on Twitter.