Columnists, Ice Hockey, Sports

Off the Post: Zdeno Chara, Boston’s humble, passionate captain

Before the Bruins took on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday, there was a ceremony to honor Zdeno Chara for two impressive milestones. This season, Chara played in his 1,500th NHL game and suited up for the 1,000th time as captain of the Boston Bruins. 

The full arena of 17,850 fans gave a full-throated stamp of approval. Boston has been watching Chara proudly wear the Black and Gold sweater with the “C” on his chest since 2006. They have seen him reach the top of the NHL mountain, stick up for teammates and deny scores from opponents.

Chara competes with an intensity and fire few could ever match. When the Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup in Vancouver, Chara had the honor of lifting the Cup first. As he skated over to Lord Stanley’s Cup, he whirled around for one last elated look at his teammates. 

Once Chara raised the Cup over his head, he immediately knocked off his championship hat. Chara’s entire focus was dedicated to lifting the Stanley Cup and letting out a few victory cries in utter ecstasy. Those moments of Chara skating alone with Lord Stanley will be the highlight of his Hall of Fame career. 

One of his other memorable moments as a Bruin actually came in a losing effort. After taking a puck to the face in game four of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals, Chara broke his jaw in multiple places. There was serious doubt if he could play through that, and even if he could go, nobody knew how effective he would be. 

In front of a raucous TD Garden crowd before game five, Chara took the ice for the pregame introductions. He wore a full cage to shield his jaw, which was being held together by plates, screws and wires. While the Bruins would come up short in that game — and eventually in the series —  Chara’s determination was nothing short of surreal.  

A Saturday tribute to Chara, who turns 43 in March, began with a video of NHL legends and current captains congratulating number 33. Nicklas Lidstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos and others pointed to Chara’s work ethic and leadership as captain. 

With Chara’s family in attendance, he waved to the crowd and thanked them for their support. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Krejci, the other three skaters remaining from the 2011 championship team, came onto the ice.

Chara was given a watch, a book filled with personal letters from teammates, staff members and opponents, a free family vacation to anywhere in the world, among other gifts. Bruins President Cam Neely gifted him a golden stick to represent all the NHL games Chara played. 

When talking to the media after a game, Chara deflected the praise to others. “I’m standing there, but I’m representing so many other people that helped me along the way,” Chara said. “Without their help and support, I wouldn’t be able to play as long. I really appreciate it.”

If other athletes made those comments after being honored, they might come off as disingenuous. However, the sentiment sounds authentic coming from Chara. His career in Boston has been based on making life easier for his teammates. 

When Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk all debuted for the Bruins, Chara was their first defense partner. He was the solid rock they could rely on to get the puck out of the zone or cover for them if they were out of position. Chara’s leadership on the ice has been crucial to the Bruins success over the years. However, his presence in the locker room should not be overlooked.

He is a staunch believer in treating every teammate as an equal. Chara does not like the term “rookie,” nor does he want the team divided into cliques of older and younger players. In his mind, every teammate has earned the right to be treated with respect. 

Chara is everything an NHL team looks for in a captain. His commitment to building a winning culture on and off the ice is relentless. Even with his regal resume — with the fact he has been an NHL player in four different decades — he is still searching for ways to improve his game.  For that, the Bruins are incredibly fortunate to have Chara represent their organization.

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