Jake Chelios didn't read the comments on social media or the opinion pieces openly chastising him and some of the other American-born athletes who competed for China during the 2022 Winter Olympics. He learned quickly that it's best to ignore the criticism.
Chelios, the son of Red Wings Hall of Famer Chris Chelios, has no regrets about his participation in the Winter Games nor his decision to move to China in 2018 and skate for the country's only professional hockey team.
Although the Chinese Olympic team, made up of players from the United States and Canada, lost all four of its games, Chelios said it was still an incredible experience.
"It was such a cool thing to walk in the opening ceremonies,” said the left-handed defenseman. "Obviously, the way I got there was not the most traditional way. I've been a part of that team for the last three years and played with basically the same group of guys. It's cool to be a part of something like that. I never thought politics and sports should mix. This was the first time China had a hockey team in the Olympics, so being a part of the building block for what they want to do for the younger generation of players makes it a little more special. And, being in the village with all the other athletes is something I'll never forget."
Brandon Yip, China's team captain, a player who skated in 174 games during his NHL career, praised Chelios for his hockey skills and leadership.
"We really rely on his ability to be an all-around defenseman that can be played in every situation. He logs a lot of key minutes for us, and without him, we would be a lot weaker. He's the type of player that doesn't get enough credit for what he does. He shows up every day at practice and competes, and works hard.
"Jake is also a very good teammate. He's always taking care of the guys and putting the team first. We were roommates at the Olympics and had a great time together."
Chelios, a graduate of Cranbrook Schools and Michigan State University, played briefly for the Red Wings during the 2018-19 season. After playing just five games in Detroit, he signed a two-year contract with China's Kunlun Red Star. He previously skated for several teams in the American Hockey League and the East Coast Hockey League.
Chelios, 31, was born in Chicago and came to Michigan when his father was traded from the Blackhawks to the Red Wings. The family settled in Bloomfield Hills, where Chelios lived from the age of nine until he began playing hockey at Michigan State in 2010. He joined his older brother Dean, who was already skating for the Spartans.
Chelios said he met his closest friends at Cranbrook. Although it's been 12 years since he lived in Bloomfield Hills, he has fond memories of skiing at Pine Knob, attending the Birmingham fair, and the Woodward Dream Cruise.
With the Olympics and his third season skating for the Kunlun Red Star behind him, Chelios left China for California to spend time with family. His parents own a home in Malibu. There he spent much of his time surfing and mountain biking.
From California, he heads to Chicago for off-season training. His contract with China's team ended this season, and Chelios expects to know whether it will be renewed soon.
"I enjoyed my time over there. Obviously, I got to play in the Olympics, and that was a huge added bonus. It's one of the best leagues you can play in, kind of a step up from the AHL, so I'd strongly consider going back," he said.
Story: Jennifer Lovy
Photo: Getty Images