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Chara, Richards lead the way into Classic

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON  -- Philadelphia Flyers forward Mike Richards and Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara might not see eye-to-eye, what with Chara standing 6-foot-9 and Richards 5-11, but they certainly offer the same intrinsic values as captains for their teams.

Leadership and an insatiable appetite to succeed have coursed through their veins since the day they entered the NHL -- Chara in 1998 and Richards in 2005. It's why each is respected by their peers. So it wasn't surprising that both were named to their respective Olympic Teams earlier this week -- Richards to Canada and Chara to Slovakia.

Heck, even Bruins coach Claude Julien laughed when asked how deserving Chara was at earning a roster spot with the Slovaks.

"If he wouldn't have made that team, I think I probably would have retired myself," Julien said.

Expect both captains to be at their best on New Year's Day when the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic takes center stage before a packed house at famed Fenway Park (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).

First-year Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger has witnessed Richards' desire to become the leader every fan on Broad Street so desperately desires.

"Mike's kind of like me," Pronger said. "There's not a lot being said there -- he kind of leads by example. In the way he works in games and how he plays. Hopefully, guys recognize that and follow. He's quiet, as am I, and I've played with leaders and captains; guys who talk a lot and guys who don't say that much. Guys who speak very little but, when they do speak, others listen because there's usually meaning behind it."

Chara is eerily similar to Richards in that he also doesn't do much talking -- only when necessary. And, really, he doesn't have to.

"He's the ultimate equalizer out there," Bruins forward Blake Wheeler said of Chara. "Anytime you see their first line on the board, you have faith that (Chara) will neutralize those guys and that makes him such a huge part of our team. He's out there logging 25-30 minutes each night and really making it as tough as he can make it on the top players from each team. More often than not, you see those guys having a long night. You can only imagine what it feels like to play against a guy like that because he's always in your face and it seems impossible to get around him.

"He's the kind of guy every team wishes they had; that you could duplicate 30-times on every team because he's the best at what he does."

Both players are looking forward to all the pomp and circumstance of the Winter Classic and each has a goal of leading their club to victory.

"Mike is a terrific young hockey player that was sort of anointed at some point as the future captain of the team; even in his first year," Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said. "But I think the year has been a very trying year for Mike, as well as a lot of his teammates and we think Mike has really come through with flying colors. He's continued to try his hardest on the ice and that's the one thing we know about Mike -- every time he puts his leg over the boards, you know the effort that you're going to get."

Chara offers that 105.4 mile-per-hour blast from the point that makes it virtually impossible for opposing goalies to control, no less find. He's collected 21 assists, 24 points, 75 hits, 53 blocked shots and a plus-9 rating through 39 games this season.

"You can put any top player in the League going against him, and when he's at his best, that guy will tell you, I don't like playing against him," Julien said. "That's what he brings to the table every night."

Richards, meanwhile, has connected for 16 goals, 33 points, 75 hits, 53 blocks and a plus-10 rating in 39 games.  

"We all know what a special player (Richards) is," Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "He works so well out there and it's pretty obvious why he's on the Canadian Team -- he's versatile and able to play against the top guys from the other teams. He can take face-offs, is great on the penalty-kill and has a ton of shorthanded goals (20) for his career. Doing all that certainly goes a long way to helping your team."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com