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Monday, December 12, 2011
Five enter U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame

Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Chris Chelios had a simple reason why he not only survived 26 seasons in the NHL, but earned a spot in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I've been surrounded by great players my whole career," Chelios said during the induction ceremony Monday night. "But the most enjoyment I ever had was seeing the enjoyment of my friends and family when I played.

"I hope I entertained you," Chelios said. "I couldn't skate any more. I had to hang 'em up."

Chris Chelios
Chris Chelios poses with his plaque before the 2011 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction in Chicago, Illinois. The three-time Norris Trophy winner led a group of five that was inducted.

Chelios was one of five American hockey notables inducted Monday. He was joined by fellow defenseman Gary Suter, with whom he played at the University of Wisconsin and with the Chicago Blackhawks, forward Keith Tkachuk, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider and broadcaster Mike Emrick.

Chelios, a three-time Norris Trophy winner who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, said his greatest moment in the game, aside from winning the Stanley Cup for the first of three times, was taking the ice to play for the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"You wanted to win the gold medal, but there was no disappointment (when Canada won)," Chelios said. "It was the best hockey I've ever been involved in."

Tkachuk, who played for Winnipeg, Phoenix, St. Louis and Atlanta, had a vivid memory of one encounter with Chelios.

"Cheli and I tangled at Chicago Stadium, got me in a headlock and I couldn't breathe," Tkachuk said, grinning. "I was down to my last breath. He was strong for a little guy."

Chelios remembered Tkachuk "turning colors. I let him go right at the last second, but I could have made him pass out easy if I wanted to. And he knew it."

They were loyal teammates on Olympic squads and during the 1996 World Cup of Hockey, in which the U.S. came back from losing the first game to sweep the last two games on Canadian ice. Suter was also on that team, while Snider hosted the first game in the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers' then-new building, and Emrick called the contests on American television.

"I didn't expect to hear my name associated with a Hall of Fame unless it involved penalty minutes or eating," Tkachuk told the gathering of about 450. "This means everything to me. I'm only retired for two years, and to go in with this class is amazing."

Tkachuk scored 538 goals in 19 NHL seasons, but counted the World Cup victory as his top achievement.

"That generated great momentum, not only for me, but for U.S. hockey in general," Tkachuk said.

Suter's 17-year pro career opened in Calgary, where he was named the NHL's top rookie in 1985-86, and went through Chicago and San Jose. Like Chelios and Tkachuk, he was inspired by the American hockey victory in the 1980 Olympics.

"That was so unexpected, but in 1996 (at the World Cup), we were a good solid team, among the top four in the world," Suter said. "I think winning that had a similar effect to 1980 on kids, and American hockey has continued to get stronger."

Snider's stewardship of the Flyers started with the team's inception in 1966. He helped grow a small business into a corporation that became a unit of Comcast, but said he was prouder of his foundation's taking over the hockey rinks in Philadelphia's park system and creating educational programs associated with hockey for disadvantaged youths to flourish.

"We have a 94 percent graduation rate, compared to 54 percent for the city," Snider said. "We used hockey as the hook. It's the only thing I've put my name on. It's my legacy. It will last forever."

Emrick's dream of being an NHL broadcaster started in the corner of the rink in Fort Wayne, Ind., where he called minor-league games into a tape recorder for practice. Decades later, the voice of 13 Stanley Cup Finals, and the lead announcer for hockey on NBC and Versus, still has boyish enthusiasm.

"I wanted to be a baseball announcer until I went to a game at the Fort Wayne Coliseum," Emrick said of a 1960 visit. "I get in free, I still get a good seat for the game, and I still like doing that. So until my bosses don't want me doing that, or I'm unhappy with my work, I'll do it."