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Hockey legend Chelios fondly remembers playing in Sask.

Chris Chelios and Mike Commodore were the guest speakers at this year's Estevan Bruins' Sportsman's Dinner.
From left, former NHLers Mike Commodore and Chris Chelios chatted with MC Rob Mahon during the Estevan Bruins' Sportsman's Dinner on Saturday night.

ESTEVAN - Before he was widely regarded as the greatest American-born player in NHL history and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Chris Chelios was a defenceman for the Moose Jaw Canucks of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League from 1979-1981.

He played several games in Estevan when the Canucks visited the Estevan Bruins.

Chelios was back in the Energy City on Saturday night for the Estevan Bruins' annual Sportsman's Dinner at Affinity Place. He teamed up with fellow former NHLer Mike Commodore to regale the crowd with tales from their hockey careers.

Chelios recalled playing in the old Estevan Civic Auditorium. It was a small rink that tough on visitors but great for the home team.

"It was a typical old barn, just like Melville and Weyburn. They had the old rinks. Now you have the beautiful new rink, and it's great," he said in a media scrum before the dinner.

He marvelled at what he saw at Affinity Place, and applauded the community for what they built here.

Chelios wound up in Moose Jaw through a chance encounter. Originally from Chicago, he was living in San Diego when he met a player with the junior Canucks.

"I wasn't playing at the time, and he gave me the coach's [Larry Billows] number up there. I called him, and he gave me a plane ticket and the rest is history," said Chelios.

The SJHL was the best level of hockey he'd played in up to that point.
"I got lucky physically. I grew. That was likely the biggest issue, as a kid, when I was 15 and 16, physically I wasn't ready, but by the time I got to Moose Jaw … I was a lot bigger. I loved it. It was as close as I thought I'd get to pro."

He was then selected in the second round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft by the Montreal Canadiens and played two seasons with the University of Wisconsin. Chelios won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986 and two with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002 and 2008.

"After the first year in Moose Jaw, I figured at least I'd get a college scholarship. That was realistically my goal, not to play in the NHL. It wasn't a thing for kids my age from Chicago especially. Then in my second year, when I was drafted by Montreal, I thought at least I'm going to get a tryout and possibly play in the minors, and that would be pretty good, too."`

He also played more than eight seasons for his hometown Chicago Blackhawks, was named the league's top defenceman three times. At one time he was the league's all-time leader in games played by a defenceman at 1,651, and his 266 career postseason games remain an NHL record.

"I was fortunate. I got a trainer early. Me and [former Estevan Bruin and NHLer] Alan May had the same trainer. It wasn't so much the injuries but how you recover from them. His named is T.R. Goodman and I had him from 1994-2010. It paid off, for sure. A lot of guys worked hard but I took it to another limit pretty early."

Commodore's parents are both from southwest Saskatchewan. And he drove through the Energy City on numerous occasions while travelling to the University of North Dakota from his hometown of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta.

He also played briefly with Carlyle's Jim McKenzie with the New Jersey Devils in the early 2000s. Commodore told the crowd he remained in contact with McKenzie after Commodore was dealt to the Anaheim Ducks in 2002. Commodore was also the guest speaker at a banquet in Arcola a few years ago. He also appears at golf tournaments and Calgary Flames' alumni events.

"I like going to the smaller communities. It's nice meeting new people. I'm fortunate enough to know Chris a little bit, so I get to catch up with him. I don't get to see him very often," said Commodore.

He played 484 NHL regular-season games, won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, which he said was the highlight of his career, and reached the Stanley Cup final with the Flames in 2004. He also won a national collegiate title at North Dakota in 2000 and a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2007 World Hockey Championships.

"I got one opportunity to play for Canada, and the only reason I got the opportunity was because the tournament was in Russia. And I think they went through the list of defencemen that were playing … and eventually they got down to me, and I said 'I don't care where the tournament is, I'll come play.'"

More than 250 tickets were sold for this year's banquet. Supper was prepared by Prairie Smoke and Spice BBQ out of Regina.

After supper, Chelios and Commodore reflected on their careers during a question-and-answer session with MC Rob Mahon, who is a former Bruins' play-by-play announcer. The two players noted some of their mutual connections over the years, including time spent playing for long-time NHL head coach Mike Babcock; Commodore has been critical of Babcock in the past.

Live and silent auctions were also part of the event. The live auction featured several different selections, including autographed jerseys from the guest speakers. The top-selling item was two sets of two tickets to a Blackhawks' game in 2024-25 in the teams' alumni box, which sold for $10,800 each.

Commodore supplied a golf package to Arizona that brought in $4,200.

The dinner is traditionally the Bruins' biggest fundraiser of the year.