“It’s not just a night like tonight, it’s every night. He does so much for this hockey club, this organization. Every night he’s working very hard, he plays a 200-foot game, he does all those little things we ask from him and he goes above and beyond every night.” - Chara, on Bergeron’s Contributions
The Bruins towering elder statesman took some time after the Bruin’s 7-1 blowout of the surprising upstart Carolina Hurricanes to talk about how good his longtime teammate Patrice Bergeron was, not only in that game but how good he is every night. For all the well-earned focus on Patrice Bergeron’s historic night and the impressive youth spread throughout the roster, Chara’s contributions have once again gone largely unheralded by fans and media alike this season.
Chara’s comments on his longtime Alt. Captain could just as easily be a self-reflection, as he continues to be one of the Bruins most consistent players, still making an impact on both ends of the ice in his 20th NHL season. While the Bruins youth movement has been impossible to ignore for anyone following along, the Bruins are still clearly being led by their stalwart veterans both in terms of on the ice production, as well as in the locker room. Zdeno Chara is still very much at the forefront of those efforts and took a few minutes to answer my questions on his leadership, playing style and a changing league.
On the Importance of Veteran Leadership for A Young Team -“That’s always been our goal, to lead by example, whether it’s on the ice or off the ice, to make sure these guys understand what it takes to be professionals and what it takes to stay in this league for a long time and play the right way. Obviously we are trying to lead on a daily basis... it’s a credit to the young guys.”
Despite being known as a true fitness fanatic and a hockey workhorse, even the best of players need rest as the season wears on. At 40 years old, for Chara this is true more so than most. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has been effective in recent games of spotting him rest when up by multiple goals bringing his TOI almost 2 minutes (23:20) under his Bruins career average (25:09), and with both a league mandated bye week, as well as the All-Star break Chara should be well rested for the Bruins likely playoff push. Regardless of his age, Chara still relishes the opportunity to prove himself against hockey’s toughest talent, night in and night out.
On how he feels physically - “I feel good, I enjoy playing a lot of minutes, I want to help this team as much as I can. It’s always been one of those things in my career that I take a lot of pride in my conditioning so I can play these minutes and take on big roles that are given to me every night against top players. I’ve learned so much over 25-30 years since I was a teenager, what to do, when to do and how to take care of myself nutrition, training wise. So now I am just benefiting from all that time doing these things. It comes very handy at my age or at my point of career.”
Most fans of the game, whether they are serious, diehard fans or even just casual ones can tell you that the NHL game has shifted away from the heavy, grinding style of play glorified at various times in the NHL’s existence, and instead has quickly set its sights on a game focused on speed, pace and skill over size, brawn and brute strength. The Bruins Captain has no illusions about the way the NHL is headed, and admits he has had to work hard to adapt his skill-set and training regimens to keep up.
On the changes within the NHL - “At my age, I really don’t feel like I am slowing down, actually I feel faster than I was before. That’s what you need to do, just have to keep up with the game, it’s evolving all the time. Try to be better and better and that’s my goal, try to better next season and the season after that. I spend a lot of time on the ice with different skill coaches, whether it is edge working, power skating, talking to a lot of people, figure skating, speed skating people. It’s constantly something on my mind, I want to keep up. As you can tell, the players are kind of on the smaller, lighter side.”
Not many players can adapt their playing style to a changing game, and even fewer still can do so while still commanding the respect of fans, teammates, coaches and media alike. The key to being a successful leader, even in the twilight of his career? Being authentic in his leadership. Chara isn’t always the most vocal of leaders, except when truly required. In general, he prefers to let his play do the talking, but don’t let that make you think he isn’t doing all he can to be a more effective player and leader.
On where he draws leadership inspiration from - “All these areas, some people I talk to from other sports who reach the top of their sports, I read lots of books, watch different documentaries. Obviously, I’m trying to be myself, not to really copy anything that would be forcing myself out of my personality, but definitely I’m always trying to gather as much information that’s out there as possible to use to my advantage so I can maybe hand off situations or examples to the others.”
While his Norris trophy days may be behind him, Chara doesn’t have his sights set on walking off into the sunset just yet. His enthusiasm for competition hasn’t waned over his three decades and counting hockey career. Each game is a new challenge for the future slam dunk Hall of Fame player and if you ask him, that’s just how he wants it to be.
On how he has learned to adapt - “It’s a challenge for a player like me who is 6’9” & 255 lbs. to play the same way and keep up with guys who are 5’11” and 180 lbs. so it’s a big difference weight wise/size wise. I know how to play these situations, I have to always stay away from certain areas so I don’t get into trouble and just play to my strengths and that’s what I have been doing”
Norris level or not, Chara’s dedication to his craft is a joy to watch and Bruins fans are truly lucky to see a elite player like Chara close out his storied career while mentoring and motivating future Bruins legends and leaders to yet another playoff run. While his role on the team may have evolved, after 12 years in Boston’s Black and Gold, Chara is still as crucial to the Bruins success as the day he joined the team.