UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Chelios, Suter deserving of call to the Hall

MHKY_110802_Chelios_Chris.jpgChris Chelios loved to be challenged; on the ice, or off. So when a UW football player questioned his speed and suggested that he could whip him in a foot race, there was no backing down.

Chelios demanded the race and won easily over the stunned gridder.

Adding insult to injury (i.e. one bruised ego), Chelios was wearing street shoes.

"He's got that mischievous look in his eyes,'' said Lou Vairo, who coached Chelios on the 1984 Olympic team, "and there are times when you don't know what he's up to.

"But the son-of-a- gun can play.''

Since that was also true of Gary Suter, it's only fitting that the two old friends -- Chelios and Suter -- will be part of the same induction class for the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.

Monday's announcement triggered flashbacks; including one to a memorable Chelios rush against Minnesota during which Chelios skated past or around four different Gophers.

He also beat the goalie, but hit the pipe with his shot.

Afterward, UW coach Jeff Sauer called it "one of the most beautiful plays I've ever seen and he didn't even score. But he has the ability to make those kinds of rushes.

"And I don't know if I've ever had a player who has been more durable. He's a mentally tough kid. Even when he's hurting, he plays with the same pace and intensity.''

Chelios, unlike Suter, wasn't exactly raised in a hockey family.

He grew up on the southwest side of Chicago and played street hockey and just about anything else that offered a challenge until he was 15 and his family moved to San Diego.

Despite his early passion for competition, he was rather small for his age and he was cut from the first hockey team that he ever tried out for -- a Junior B team in Canada.

Chelios lost some interest in hockey so he spent most of his afternoons on the beach. At night, he would skate with his younger brother at the House of Ice.

It was the only available rink in the San Diego area and the home base for U.S. International, a school that had just begun to develop a collegiate hockey program.

Once a week, Chelios' parents would drive him to Los Angeles so that he could play for a midget team. But the competition was so bad that his interest began to wane in the sport.

As a result, he spent more time in the water (surfing) and more time on the beach (goofing off).

"It was a stroke of luck,'' he would later concede after bumping into a group of hockey players from U.S. International; one of whom would put him in touch with a Junior coach in Canada.

Chelios called and arranged his own tryout with the Moose Jaw Canucks. Even though he was so inexperienced, so raw, and so unfamiliar with playing defense, he made the team.

"I was decent, nothing great,'' said Chelios, who grew four inches in one year. "I got so much ice time that I was bound to learn something, though.''

The following season, he was voted the top defenseman in the league.

That was his first step on the road to Wisconsin and eventually superstardom in the NHL.

"Chris is one of the rare players who always have the capability to come back for more,'' said Denny Helwig, who was then the trainer for the Badger hockey team.

"Nothing bothers him. He's like a diesel; the more work he gets, the better. He's very similar to Bobby Suter in that the little things don't seem to bother him.''

Bobby Suter wore No. 2 for the Badgers, John Suter wore No.3, Gary Suter wore No. 4

"I watched John and Bob play all the time and I used to idolize them,'' Gary said of his older brothers. "I would sit in the stands and band would start playing and I would think about what it would be like to be out there playing for the Badgers.''

It would be a dream come true for Gary Suter, who left Madison before the start of his sophomore year in high school and enrolled at Culver (Ind.) Military Academy

Suter was exposed to better hockey and strict discipline. Rather than making a direct jump to the WCHA and the Badgers, he played a year of junior hockey in Dubuque, Iowa.

That's where he learned more about himself and his game. Would he turn out to be a combination of Bob's offense and John's defense?  Ideally, yes.

"But I'm not going to model myself after either one of them,'' Gary Suter said upon getting to Wisconsin. "I can only be myself. And I don't feel any pressure to be anything else.''

Neither Suter nor Chelios cheated Badger hockey fans from that standpoint; making their induction into the Hall of Fame all the more deserving and special.