BOSTON -- Even with a Norris Trophy, a Stanley Cup championship and multiple All-Star and Olympic team selections in his past, Zdeno Chara still strives to improve.
And as much has he utilizes an aggressive workout regimen, atomic slap shot and brute strength as the NHL's tallest player ever (6-foot-9) to achieve his goals, the Boston Bruins star defenseman uses a tool many mere mortals also put to use when they need to remember things or organize thoughts.
Chara keeps a notebook every day in an effort to make sure he continues getting better.
"I try to write down things that I think I can do better or more adjust to either new rules or the game," Chara said. "Certain things that maybe I can back off a little bit or others than I can work more on.
"Over the course of the season you're noticing things. If you just let it go, it's a good chance you'll forget it."
While every player is different, many might want to get their hands on Chara's training bible. He's kept detailed daily notes since 1996, when he first arrived in North America from Slovakia to play for Prince George of the Western Hockey League. More than 1,000 NHL games and 450 points later, Chara is still taking notes.
He's about to turn 36 years old on Monday, but his attention to detail with a pen or on the ice hasn't slowed. Neither has his ability to intimidate and shut down some of the League's elite snipers.
Chara says 36 is just a number, and even the condensed 2012-13 NHL schedule hasn't taken much of a toll on his aging body. His off-ice workout regimen, in-season or during the summer, has been marveled at by teammates, coaches and opponents alike for years. Remember, this is a guy who used to ride his bike along the path of the Tour de France.
He admits he's had to scale back his off-ice efforts to make sure he's at full strength for games, with the Bruins squeezing their 48 contests into the same short time frame as the other 29 teams. That doesn't mean Chara's teammates notice any difference in their captain's approach.
"He's always here really early, working out hard before practices," said Johnny Boychuk, who has been Chara's regular-season defense partner for most of the last three seasons. "He's always working on his shot before practice, after practice. He's always here later than most guys, I think everybody."
Through 25 games, Chara posted six goals, six assists and a plus-13 rating while once again averaging more than 24 minutes of ice a game (he hasn't averaged less since the 2001-02 season).
Last season, Chara led all NHL defenseman with a plus-33 rating (third in the League overall) and set career highs with 40 assists and 52 points. He finished fourth among all defenseman in points, but when the Norris Trophy was awarded in June, Erik Karlsson and his 78 points had impressed the voters.
Chara, who won the Norris in 2009, admires Karlsson's game. However, Chara always strives to be the best and while he's not playing the game for individual accolades, he wonders what more he can do to live up to the award's measurement of the defenseman who "demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position."
"Sometimes guys, the voters, do overlook that there are two sides of the ice," Chara said. "Not that I'm complaining. I mean, if somebody has 75 or 80 points as a defenseman, it's unbelievable. It's a lot of credit to that player. But maybe he's not a player who's killing penalties or playing physical or playing against top lines every night. So then what's that kind of measuring stick? It sometimes, it is disappointing. It is hard.
"Because those nominations don't come easy and it takes a lot of hard work, and then when you make it and you don't [win], it's hard."
Coming into his own as a star defenseman in the era of Nicklas Lidstrom taught Chara the hard way that the Norris can be elusive. Chara doesn't regret that Lidstrom, who won the award seven times, was often in his way because of how much he looked up to the Swedish star. Listening to Chara talk about getting to meet Lidstrom and talk with one of the best blueliners ever, the Bruins standout sounds the same way kids talk after getting up close and personal with Chara at the rink.
Now that Lidstrom has skated into retirement, there might be a greater chance to add more Norris wins to Chara's resume.
"If it's more room [to win the Norris], we'll see. It seems like every year there are some new names popping up. And, of course, those are the names that are putting up points a lot," Chara said. "I don't even know how to compare. It's almost like are we going to give somebody that has the most goals the Selke? No, we won't because we know that's not [the award]."
One way to solve the point-differential problem is to make the evening highlights more often. Chara was the talk of the League last month after he scored a goal against Florida with a 360-degree spin move on his way to the net and then backhanding the puck just under the crossbar. Chara doesn't expect there to be many more plays like that if that's what the Norris voters are waiting for.
"I'm not the sexiest player, if you want to call it that, to watch because I don't go end to end … a toe-drag guy," he said. "But I try to do everything I can at both ends of the ice, whatever the team needs -- hitting, blocking, fighting, scoring -- I just want to do the full thing. For some others maybe it's not as pretty to watch."
The notes Chara takes about himself won't make him any prettier, either. However, they'll keep making him better and help ensure his career and the Bruins have plenty of successful chapters ahead.
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