Chelios, Hatcher and Draper sign to play in UHL

FRASER, Mich. -- Red Wings defensemen Chris Chelios and Derian Hatcher and forward Kris Draper signed with the Motor City Mechanics of the United Hockey League on Tuesday for the remainder of the season. "I'm excited and nervous and looking forward to playing," Chelios said. The addition of three NHL players should provide a boost for the struggling Mechanics (11-29-6), who are averaging just 1,500 in attendance per game in a building that holds 3,200. "It's just a chance for the team to do something," Chelios said. More than 300 NHL players are on teams in European leagues while the lockout that threatens the entire North American season drags on. The stalemate reached its 139th day on Tuesday and already has forced the cancellation of 756 of the 1,230 regular-season games plus this year's All-Star game. Chelios, Hatcher and Draper will play in Motor City's home games and might join the first-year expansion team when it travels to Flint and Port Huron. Players in the UHL -- a league that is three rungs below the NHL -- can't earn more than $1,000 per week. Hatcher, 32, was limited to 15 regular-season games and 12 playoff contests last season because of a knee injury and didn't want to miss another season. "I just couldn't sit out for two years and try to come back at the National Hockey League level," he said. Draper is just looking for some competitive games to play in advance of the World Championships in April. "The bottom line is I want to go to Austria and represent Team Canada," said the 33-year-old Draper, who won the Selke trophy last season as the NHL's best defensive forward. He considered playing in a European league but didn't want to go so far away from home. "For us, being North Americans, we don't have that many options," he said. "If we were going to go anywhere, we'd be uprooting the family. This is an opportunity to play hockey here in front of the great Michigan fans." Chelios originally arranged to play for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League if the lockout dragged on, but decided against the commute. He also has been toying with the idea of trying out for the Greek Olympic bobsled team for the 2006 Winter Games at Turin, Italy. Chelios' parents are Greek. Chelios, who turned 43 earlier this month, might never play in the NHL again if the lockout wipes out the whole season. He is an unrestricted free agent, but Draper and Hatcher have contracts with the Red Wings. "Obviously, half the league is playing in different leagues around the world," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "So it doesn't surprise me that the players are looking to play." Chelios and Hatcher practiced with the Mechanics on Tuesday, and Hatcher might play at Flint on Wednesday night. The trio is expected to make their debut together Friday night, when Motor City hosts Rockford.

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