From Curiosity to Cornerstone, Zdeno Chara Closes Legendary Career

The video above shows the view from Sportsnet’s set for Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup final. A huge ovation for Zdeno Chara three nights after taking a puck in the face that knocked him out of Game 4 – sort of from.

Unable to play in the third period, he became the world’s highest paid porter. Chara sat on the bench and encouraged teammates despite not being able to play. There were times when it looked like the Bruins would have to chain him to his seat to prevent him from going outside.

After St. Louis won the Stanley Cup, Chara admitted to having multiple jaw fractures. “I think I can tolerate pain,” he said.

Yes, that’s an understatement.

When I started at Hockey Night in Canada, I played a lot of Senatorial games. That was a great team, culminating in the build-up to the 2007 final. They were phenomenal to deal with, and Chara was a big part of that. There were some nice memories:

• Wade Redden said he was ashamed to take off his shirt around Chara “and I’m not the only one.”

• Bryan Murray said Daniel Alfredsson loved challenging himself against Chara. A day after practice, Murray said the two went cycling together. (Chara’s love of cycling is well known.) The next day, after a morning of ice skating, Murray was asked how things were going. He said Chara Alfredsson was limp because he “stopped after five.” (Alfredsson rolled his eyes and denied it was true. For pure comedy, I choose to believe it to be true.)

• At the 2004 Hockey World Cup, Slovakia had a mediocre tournament. During one of the breaks in their last game, voices went up behind the closed door of their locker room. A team official looked at me. He said, “Chara.” Then someone else. The official said, “(Pavol) Demitra.” He shook his head. “They destroy their teammates. They can’t stand a loss like that.”

• When he was named Boston captain, he heard Chara out of nowhere calling four-time Stanley Cup champion coach Al Arbor to ask him about good leadership. The two lived not far from each other in Florida. Arbor said he would never forget Chara’s booming voice when he first heard him on the phone.

The Stanley Cup doesn’t seem small in many hands, but that’s what it sure looked like when Chara let out that throaty cry as she lifted it up in 2011.

Chara had two great gifts: measure and will. The NHL has its clear biases towards great men. Just by being the size he is, the monstrous defender was assured of some sort of NHL career. But the true measure of his greatness is that he has never accepted that as anywhere near enough.

When he arrived at WHL Prince George in 1996, he was the definition of a project. The stories were legendary about how raw he was. But under Cougars coach Stan Butler — who name-checked Chara Tuesday — the defender’s legendary work habits began to develop him from curiosity to cornerstone. He is the largest free agent transfer in NHL history.

Chara never demanded of others that he would not demand of himself. He made sure that new or young teammates felt involved and involved.

He didn’t just have ‘a career’. Teammates have been telling Chara stories for decades. That number goes to the rafters in Boston. He’s going to the Hall of Fame.

Huge person, huge impact.