Chris Chelios enters Hall of Fame

TORONTO -- A chance encounter on the beach was the beginning of a journey that included 1,651 NHL games, three Stanley Cups and enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame for Chris Chelios.

Chelios was inducted Monday night along with Brendan Shanahan, Scott Niedermayer, Ray Shero and Geraldine Heaney.

Playing in the NHL wasn't initially Chelios' dream, but it was Bobby Parker's.

Parker was a defenseman from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, with enough of a future in hockey that a few colleges offered him scholarships.

He chose United States International University in San Diego, Calif., where Chelios was enrolled and trying to make the team as a forward in the fall of 1979.

Chelios didn't make it, and while Parker did, he decided the dilapidated facilities and life in California weren't for him and went home to resume his career with the Moose Jaw Canucks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Before he left, Parker made a simple gesture he attributes to fate.

"We were just on the beach one day, and I recognized him. So I just walked over," Parker said. "We just started chatting, and he said his hockey was done. He was done, there was just a beer and pizza league there, like a senior league."

When Chelios told Parker he just wanted to play hockey somewhere, Parker gave him the phone number of Moose Jaw coach Larry Billows.

After some convincing, in part from Parker, Billows brought Chelios in as a defenseman even though he had never played the position before.

"They started writing in the newspaper, 'We got this defenseman coming from San Diego,' " Parker recalled. "And I'm thinking, 'Man, he hasn't even ever played defense.' I had no idea what was going to happen."

Chelios' parents had wanted him to get an education, so his mentality was to get a business degree from USIU and "go from there."

Once he caught a break thanks to Parker and Billows and switched to defense, Chelios shined and developed into a point-per-game player, winning three Norris Trophies as the NHL's best defenseman.

"I watch a lot of hockey and I played a lot, and what really amazed me was as soon as he started playing, it was like his natural position," Parker said. "What also happened (was) he grew a couple inches. He put on, I think, 15 pounds, over the course of a year. Kind of the rest is history."

Chelios was drafted in the second round by the Montreal Canadiens in 1981 and went to the University of Wisconsin.

In 1982, Chelios endured what he called the worst loss of his career, an 8-0 defeat to the Soviet Union in the world junior championship that made him almost "embarrassed to be American."

In 1986, Chelios enjoyed his first major team triumph as part of the 23rd Stanley Cup team in Canadiens history. Being amid a million Habs fans on Saint Catherine Street remains one of the Chicago native's fondest memories.

"Having each fan pass me a drink every minute of the parade, 1 hour and 15 minutes turned into a four-hour parade," Chelios said. "There's nothing like winning a championship."

Chelios was unexpectedly traded to his hometown Blackhawks in 1990 and played eight-plus seasons there before being dealt to Detroit. He won two more Cups with the Red Wings in 2002 and 2008.

Chelios finished his career with the NHL record for postseason appearances (24) and most games played by an American defenseman (1,651). He retired at age 47 after one final stop with the Atlanta Thrashers.

For some players, such as fellow inductee Niedermayer, retiring was a difficult decision. Shanahan had no choice because he got cut. Heaney was finally ready to hang up her skates after so much success for Team Canada when she was ready to get married and have children.

"For me it was really easy," Chelios said. "Zero goals, zero assists, zero points, so time to go."

Chelios had 185 goals and 763 assists, retiring ninth among defensemen in points with 948. Parker, who grew up idolizing Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr, never got a sniff of life in the NHL and is now a social worker living in Calgary.

Parker is 51 now, just like Chelios. In Toronto to support his friend during induction weekend, Parker is still left to wonder what would have become of a Hall of Fame career if he didn't approach Chelios one day on the beach.

"He probably wouldn't have played," Parker said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.