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Chris Chelios cheered in return to United Center

Former Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios talks about being inducted inU.S. Hockey Hall Fame. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Former Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios talks about being inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 13, 2012 8:20AM

The smile on Chris Chelios’ face said it all. The Blackhawks’ faithful finally might be in the process of forgiving him for leaving for the hated Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s.

Chelios — who was jeered every day since in Chicago, including during his own Hawks heritage night — was applauded when he was introduced as a member of this year’s United States Hockey Hall of Fame class during the Hawks’ game Sunday against the San Jose Sharks at the United Center.

“Does it bother me? Absolutely,” Chelios said of being booed throughout the years. “But I understand it. I swore I’d never play for them, and then things changed overnight. The biggest reason for going to Detroit was not only was it a great team and a great opportunity, but it was four hours from here, and I was able to commute and see my family. They’re going to forgive me one day for that. They’ve gotta.”

Considering the applause he received, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame ceremony at the Renaissance Chicago on Monday should be another sign of a change of heart. Chelios is joined by broadcaster Mike “Doc” Emrick, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider, former Hawks, Sharks and Calgary Flames defenseman Gary Suter and St. Louis Blues star Keith Tkachuk in this year’s class.

Chelios, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Red Wings, finally called it quits after 26 seasons in August 2010. He works in the Wings’ front office.

“For me, I’m having so much more fun watching my two sons at Michigan State, and my daughter is at Northwestern getting ready to play lacrosse,” he said. “I played long enough and got it all out of my system, and I’m having a blast now.”

An Evergreen Park native and former Mount Carmel student, Chelios said the Hawks always will be a part of him.

“I grew up watching Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, and that’s where I’m from,” Chelios said.

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