Zdeno Chara left the Boston Bruins when they couldn’t guarantee him a full-time gig at the age of 43 and joined the Washington Capitals.
Chara has since turned 44 and has shown he can still work.
On Saturday, he is expected to become the 13th player in league history to appear in 1,600 regular season games. Less than a week after 41-year-old Patrick Marleau broke Gordie Howe’s career game record, Chara will reach his important milestone that those who know him attribute to a legendary training regimen that has kept him going. on the ice for so long and has evolved throughout the season. during his career.
“I’ve always been very disciplined and motivated, and I had a lot of passion for training and diet and staying the course,” Chara said Thursday. “The process of reaching these milestones takes time, years, days away from families, and I still kind of enjoy this whole process of reaching these goals.”
Chara has already accomplished numerous goals, winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2009 and lifting the Stanley Cup as Boston captain in 2011. The 6-foot-9 Slovakian also led the Bruins to the final in 2013 and 2019, getting it wrong. the young home coaches who cut him and the teams who passed him in the 1996 draft before the New York Islanders chose him in the third round.
The Islanders, Chara’s opponent for this latest milestone, traded him after 231 games, and the Ottawa Senators lost him to Boston in free agency in 2006. Chara became a titan of the sport with the “C”. On his chest and a reputation for a gym rat.
Longtime Bruins coach Claude Julien remembers many nights when Chara would play 25 minutes and still work when he was ready to leave the ice. “He’s like a machine,” Julien said.
Skating coach Adam Nicholas said Chara also shows up an hour or more before ice practice just to prepare. One of the first things Chara said to Nicholas when they started working together half a decade ago was, “I’m just a regular guy looking for success.”
“The guys were joking that it was almost like he was trying to touch every piece of equipment that is in the gym every time,” said Patrice Bergeron, who played alongside Chara for 14 seasons with Boston. “He’s right there and working all the time and doing more.”
The job has changed. Chara at 20, entering the pros with the Kentucky Thoroughblades of the American Hockey League, needed to strengthen himself. Chara at 35 or 40 gears shifted gears as the rest of the league got faster and should have been able to circle around him.
They did not do it.
“As his career progressed into the later stages he was smart enough to adapt his training to what he needed to do to continue to be effective,” said Julien. “He’s always been tall, strong and difficult to face. As he got older he changed his training to maybe work a little more on quick feet and that sort of thing.
Chara told Nicholas of his skating, “I have to put this mansion in a one bedroom apartment.” Nicholas praised Chara for his love of self-improvement and said, “He’s completely changed from trying to outdo everyone to now he’s as fast or faster than others.”
For Chara’s teammates, it didn’t matter what he was working on as much as his commitment to doing it. Ralph Krueger, who coached the European team at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, called Chara’s off-ice package a role model to follow.
“He’s still got that drive and that competitiveness and he wants to improve, so he’s still training and working on his game,” said Bergeron. “It’s more the fact that he’s always there to do something.”
Chara isn’t a top-pair force like he once was, but he’s still averaging 18 minutes per game for a Cup contender. The Bruins let Chara and Torey Krug go in free agency to pave the way for young defenders, but the Capitals got exactly what they hoped for by signing him.
“He adds so much,” said general manager Brian MacLellan. “He understands the game situations. He understands where to put the puck, how to defend in front of our net, how to stop the cycle. It does all the little things you want (from) a veteran player.
That’s why Chara wants to be known at this point in his career.
“Team success is always the first,” he said. “I just try to contribute to the success of the team and help the team as much as I can.”
With a handful of games until his 16th trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Chara is happy to occupy an important position with Washington and has more than earned the trust of coach Peter Laviolette in crucial situations. The league’s oldest player prefers to stay in the present and won’t make any promises about his future, and that’s more than OK for the Capitals, who are counting on him to try to win a second championship in four years.
“He is an extremely talented player and he allows himself to continue playing as long as he keeps up,” said Laviolette. “I don’t mean you lose the passion or lose the flame or lose the fire, but it takes more to keep that burn going, and he clearly has that burn.”
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