Chelios career nearly went downhill, in a big way

Regardless of whether he returns to the National Hockey League as an active player, Chris Chelios is guaranteed a trip to the Vancouver Winter Olympics if he so desires to go.

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke, who is also serving as GM of the United States hockey team, has asked Chelios to consider being part of the clubs off-ice staff, in some capacity.

Chelios captained Team USA at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, the third time hed suited up for the Olympics as a player. In case the 2004-05 NHL lockout had gone on to scuttle plans for NHLers skating in the Olympiad that year, Chelios spent his down time away from hockey that season implementing a five- ring Plan B.

Drawing upon his Greek roots, he sought to assemble a Greek bobsledding team for the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Though this version of an Olympic dream on ice never came to fruition, Chelios still follows the sport more closely than most NHL players.

I saw that Canadian guy on TV the other day, Chelios said, referring to Olympic gold medallist Pierre Lueders of Edmonton.

It was Lueders who labelled the bid by Chelios to become a bobsledder as ridiculous and utter nonsense.

In the winter of 2004, with the NHL idled by its labour dispute, Chelios doffed his hockey gear and helmet in exchange for a bobsled helmet and burn suit.

He was 42 at the time.

It was just something that I always wanted to try, said Chelios, an NHL free agent after he was let go this summer by the Detroit Red Wings, his employers since 1999.

He is instead playing this season with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

I wasnt playing hockey so I thought, Lets put a Greek bobsledding team together.

Chelios was invited to test with the U.S. national team and took a run down the Lake Placid course that was home to the 1980 Winter Olympic bobsled competition, accompanied in the sled by prominent American surfer Laird Hamilton.

Upon arriving in his new sporting world, Chelios quickly noticed the remnants of the trade all over his fellow competitors.

None of them had any skin on their shoulders, he said. It was just scar tissue from all the times theyd flipped over and slid down the course on their shoulders.

Chelios, who occupied the second seat in the four-man sled, took some tumbles of his own and found it to be enthralling rather than frightening.

The first time we went over, the ice burned a hole right through my helmet, he said, recalling a spill in an Americas Cup race in Calgary in November of 2004. I wasnt too worried about falling out of the sled. Im used to falling and sliding on ice.

The Greeks finished ninth out of nine sleds in that four-man competition and Chelios compared the experience to compacting the violence and physicality of a 60-minute hockey game all into a one-minute span of the highest intensity.

Watching Chelios rocket his way around such a treacherous course, some who know him best werent surprised by this turn of events.

He has this belief in himself that he can do anything, Wings coach Mike Babcock said of Chelios.

While impressed by his courage, some of Chelioss former teammates are quite willing to steer clear of this version of blades on ice.

You wont catch me in the bobsled, Detroit centre Kris Draper said. Well let the Greek have that all to himself.

Echoed Wings forward Kirk Maltby: The bobsleds too scary for me. But I might be willing to try the ski jumping.

Chelios helped the perennially cash-strapped Greek team financially through fundraising events, and even though he never competed for Greece in a World Cup race hes still very much a part of Greek bobsledding – in name only.

Do a search for Greeces mens bobsled team on the Federation Internationale de Bobsleigh et de Tobogganing (FIBT.com) official website and the first name that pops up is Chelios.

The most well-known of the Greek bobsledders, if there can be such a person, would be pilot John-Andrew Kambanis – like Chelios a Chicago native. He competed for Greece in the 1998 Nagano Games and the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and it was Kambanis who first broached the idea of helping out the Greek sledders when he met Chelios in Utah.

Others listed as part of the team include Calgarys Alex Thymaras, who played minor pro hockey with Macon of the Southern League and Rio Grande of the Central League, and Alexander Ghantonakis, a former Greek discus champion.

They didnt make it to Turn and although the team maintains its own website at Olympicdream.net, Greece hasnt competed in a World Cup event since 2006.