FRASER, Mich. (AP) ? Detroit Red Wings defensemen Chris Chelios and Derian Hatcher and forward Kris Draper have signed to play for the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League for the remainder of the season.
Im excited and nervous and looking forward to playing, said Chelios, who noted that the Mechanics are struggling at 11-29-6 and averaging 1,500 in attendance in a building which holds 3,200.
Its just a chance for the team to do something, he added. Now in the twilight of his career, Chelios is a living legend and one of professional hockey?s greatest defensive stars.
Chelios had originally arranged to play for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League if the National Hockey League lockout dragged on, but decided he doesnt want to commute. He has also been toying with the idea of trying out for the Greek Olympic bobsled team for the 2006 Winter Games at Turin, Italy. Chelios parents are Greek.
Chelios, who turned 43 last month, might never play in the NHL again if the lockout wipes out the whole season. He is a free agent and had been looking to latch onto a minor league team while waiting out the stalemate.
Draper and Hatcher have contracts with the Red Wings.
Chelios and Hatcher both practiced with the Mechanics this past Tuesday, February 1.
Obviously, half the league is playing in different leagues around the world, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said of NHL players. So it doesnt surprise me that the players are looking to play.
More than 300 NHL players are on teams in European leagues while the lockout, which threatens the entire North American season, drags on. The lockout reached its 139th day on Tuesday, and had already forced the cancellation of 756 of the 1,230 regular season games, plus the 2005 NHL All-Star Game.
Chelios, Hatcher and Draper will play in Motor Citys home games at Great Lakes Sports City in Fraser, and may join the first-year expansion team when it travels to Flint and Port Huron. They gave various reasons for signing with a league ? three rungs below the NHL ? where the most a player can make is $1,000 per week.
Hatcher, 32, was limited to 15 regular-season games and 12 playoff contests last season because of a knee injury and doesnt think he can afford to miss nearly two full seasons.
I just couldnt sit out for two years and try to come back at the National Hockey League level, he said.
Draper, 33, said wants to stay competitive.
The bottom line is, I want to go to Austria and represent Team Canada in the World Championships in April, he said. Draper won the Selke trophy last season as the best defensive forward in the NHL. He had considered playing in Europe, he said, but didnt want to leave his family.
The Associated Press posted the above on February 2. The original headline is, Chelios, Hatcher and Draper to play in UHL.