Detroit Red Wings defenceman Chris Chelios in this Jan. 12, 2006 file photo. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Paul Sancya
DETROIT - Chris Chelios' 46th birthday set up perfectly.
The NHL-leading Detroit Red Wings entered the all-star break following wins over Los Angeles and Anaheim, putting the defenceman near his off-season home.
It allowed Chelios to fill up his Friday with the trademark intense workouts that have contributed to his mind-boggling longevity.
Chelios became the second-oldest player on the ice in an NHL game two weeks ago. He jokingly grabbed his back when he received a standing ovation at Joe Louis Arena.
He clearly is not ready to bow, though, and step off the ice for good.
While many NHL players started to kick back and relax for the rest of the week, Chelios planned to test his well-travelled body on his birthday by biking through the Santa Monica Mountains and swimming in the Pacific Ocean with friend and fitness guru Don Wildman.
"When people in beer-and-pizza leagues say I'm their inspiration, and I feel the same way about Don Wildman," Chelios said recently in an interview with The Associated Press. "He's 74 years old and is still active, so there's no excuse for me."
In the other three major team sports, the oldest active players are: 47-year-old kicker Morten Andersen, who played last season for the Atlanta Falcons; 41-year-old Dikembe Mutombo of the Houston Rockets; and 45-year-old Jamie Moyer of the Philadelphia Phillies - assuming Julio Franco doesn't land with a team this season approaching his 50th birthday.
In NHL history, only Hall of Famer Gordie Howe was older than Chelios when he played, skating at 52 for the Hartford Whalers during the 1979-80 season almost a decade after leaving the Red Wings.
"I know I am old, but I don't feel old," Chelios said with sweat dripping off his nose after a practice.
Chelios was born in Chicago on Jan. 25, 1962, and played against his current coach, Mike Babcock, when both were teenagers.
"I'm supposed to be skating with our old-timers and Cheli is older than me," said Babcock, who is a year younger than Chelios. "It's amazing when you think about what he's done from winning Stanley Cups and Norris Trophies to being an Olympic team captain to standing up for the players when they thought there was a wrongdoing.
"In the end, it comes down to his passion for the game. He never believes the coach is right in terms of playing time."
Chelios is averaging 17 minutes a game for the Red Wings, who have a double-digit points lead over the rest of the league.
The three-time Norris Trophy winner and 11-time all-star usually doesn't play on back-to-back nights, and Chelios stews each time he is scratched.
"It kills me because I know I can contribute more to the success we're having," he said. "I played 20 minutes a game a couple years ago and played more last year because of injuries and proved I could still do it."
In fact, Chelios is convinced he can keep up his pace for at least another season and openly lobbies general manager Ken Holland to sign him for another year.
"I'll keep asking Kenny about it every day," Chelios said, whose daily off-season routine has helped him extend his career to 24 seasons - and counting perhaps.
He works out with renowned trainer T.R. Goodman at his gym in Venice, Calif., and hits the mountains, beaches and ocean with big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton and Wildman, the founder of Bally Total Fitness.
"A lot of athletes lose their edge in the off-season, but Cheli never has," Goodman said. "That's why I could easily see him playing at 50."
Nothing Chelios does surprises Minnesota Wild forward Brian Rolston, who has played against him in the NHL since 1994 and with him at the past two Olympics.
"He's superhuman, I think, to play until 46," Rolston said. "It's a mental battle more than it is physical."
Instead of teasing Chelios about his age, Rolston said he is called 'The Godfather,' by Team USA players.
Red Wings teammates have similar reverence for Chelios, even those barely younger than him.
Goaltender Dominik Hasek, whose 43rd birthday is on Tuesday, made his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1990-91 season when they acquired Chelios in a trade from Montreal.
Chelios is the only player in NHL history to appear in at least 400 games with three different teams, joining the Red Wings in a trade a decade ago.
His remarkable endurance also has empowered him to play at least a full season against three teams, including St. Louis, which he has faced 110 times in the regular season.
"I'm not joking at all when I say he is an inspiration to me," Hasek said. "He has had to change his style over the years because he used to be all over the ice offensively. Now, he is a stay-at-home defenceman.
"But he still loves the game and when you're our age, it truly is mind over body."