The Verdict: Hockey pedigree on display at Prospect Camp
There were some serious bloodlines on display during the recent Blackhawks Prospect Camp. Call it pedigree power at Johnny’s IceHouse.
On one side was Jake Chelios, the son of former Blackhawk and Hall of Famer Chris. On the other side was Chris Calnan, nephew of Jeremy Roenick, another star of yore in Chicago.
Once upon a time, Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick not only excelled on the ice. They were known to bond off the ice and perhaps venture downtown on occasion in search of the perfect milkshake.
“Oh, they still get together and go out,” said Jake, smiling. “Sometimes by themselves, sometimes with the families. We have a place in California, at Malibu, where we spend a lot of August. Jeremy will drop by there every once in awhile. Those guys know how to have fun.”
In certain circles, that would be Uncle Jeremy. Calnan’s mother, Janine, is the sister of Tracy, who married Roenick. When Calnan was growing up in Massachusetts and learning to love hockey, he realized that there was a famous player in the family tree.
"THE VERDICT" WITH BOB VERDI
Blackhawks Team Historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. He authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001, was the featured contributor in "One Goal Achieved: The Inside Story of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks," and has co-authored biographies on Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
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“I just got a phone call from him the other night,” said Calnan. “Jeremy wanted to know how it was going here in camp. He’s been great. I remember him most from when he played in Phoenix and Philadelphia. But I heard stories about when he started out in Chicago, getting his teeth knocked out in the playoffs and then barely missing a shift.”
Jake Chelios was an undrafted free agent invited to Prospect Camp. He’s a defenseman, he will return to Michigan State this fall, and he will study hard. But he wants hockey to be his future, although it won’t be hockey the way it was played by Dad. Chris Chelios watched his son the other day, and although the old man appears to be in shape to take regular shifts, what about the new rules? No chance. Chris Chelios said he would be on “indefinite suspension and on Brendan Shanahan’s speed dial,” if he were still active.
“Am I as tough as my father?” wondered Jake. “I don’t think I can be. It’s a different game than when he was in the NHL. But I think I have some of the edge that he used to have. I was born here and remember watching him at the United Center. I would stand up when he got into a fight. I understood at an early age that he was tough, and I heard other people talking about how tough he was. Actually, I started out playing the wing. Just switched to his old position not long ago. It’s not that big a deal, but you do have to learn how to skate backwards and what to do without the puck.”
Calnan is a right wing of considerable size: 6 foot-3, 200 pounds and counting. He was drafted in the third round—79th overall—by the Blackhawks last month, and talent experts within the organization see a tremendous upside as a power forward. Calnan has been offered a full scholarship to Boston College, but he just turned 18 and he’s still in high school.
“This is all I want to do, and to be picked by an Original Six franchise is awesome,” said Calnan. “I grew up around the Bruins in Boston, another great hockey city. I’ve been here in Chicago for a week or so, and it’s awesome. Like Boston, only bigger. Jeremy told me how great it was, playing for the Blackhawks. He said he would let me wear his number, 27, when the time comes. I hope the time comes. I wore 20 in camp. That’s fine.”
When he was younger, Jake Chelios thought it might be difficult being the son of a legend. No more.
“It can be a negative if you make it that,” he said. “But there are so many more positives. My Dad comes to all our games. I went to so many of his games. I saw him play, along with so many other great players. I can pick up the phone anytime and ask for advice. I went to his Hall of Fame induction and saw what a special group there is in hockey. Guys try to beat the heck out of each other in games, but there is a respect in the sport. I experienced that first-hand. That’s nothing but a positive.”
When Roenick calls, Calnan does more listening than asking.
“He told me to use my body, not be afraid, be comfortable,” said Calnan. “Jeremy also told me about the restaurants to visit here. Jeremy has been super. When he played in Phoenix, we used to go down there for Thanksgiving. He took me hiking. My dad, Jay, is with me. He’s pumped. Education is very important in our family, but he knows where I want to be. I had a chance to go to Harvard, but I felt Boston College would be better for my hockey.”
There’s a mother in the Chelios equation, of course. A queen mother, Tracee.
“Oh, she gets the last word,” said Jake. “She’s fabulous. At home, Dad isn’t like he was on the ice. I don’t want to call him a pushover, but he might yell a little bit about something. Then Mom tells him to calm down and she figures it out, whatever it is. Dad never gets mad over a mistake I make on the ice, unless it’s a result of being lazy. If he sees that I’m not working hard, then he’ll let me have it. Same with all the children in our family. He expects us to give everything we have.”
Oddly enough, because they were in separate groups, Jake Chelios and Chris Calnan did not have a chance to hang out at the camp, a temporary breach in their pedigree power. But there might be a day, and besides, it is a different day. Uncle Jeremy was in a league of his own, but it wasn’t the Ivy League. Harvard?
“Yeah,” said Calnan. “Harvard.”