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Chara Still A Shining Example In His 21st Season

The captain embracing a mentorship role as he still plays big minutes for the Bruins

by Michael Tolvo @NHLBruins /

SUNRISE, Fla. - On June 22nd, 1996, a curious commodity from Trenčín, Slovakia was drafted in the third round of the NHL Draft by the New York Islanders.

Just over four months later on the November 26, Lenny and Angie Carlo gave birth to their son Brandon in Colorado Springs.

A year after in Long Beach, New York, Charlie McAvoy was born.

While Carlo and McAvoy where studying the finer points of walking and talking, a young defenseman by the name of Zdeno Chara - the tallest player in hockey history - was cutting his teeth in the hack-happy NHL of the late '90s.

While Chara spent the next 20-plus years tormenting the league's elite forwards, Carlo and McAvoy developed from pee wees to powerful NHL blueliners. The two young defenders now find themselves lining up next to Chara on a nightly basis, and likely will for a little while longer.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney announced on Saturday that the Bruins have signed Chara to another one-year extension. Fresh of his 42nd birthday, the deal will take the B's captain through the 22nd season of his illustrious NHL career.

"I'm very honored and grateful to be a Bruin for another season," said Chara prior to the team's contest against the Florida Panthers on Saturday. "Obviously, thanks to Mr. Jacobs, Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, all the coaching staff, the whole organization has been very supportive and helpful for my family and myself. And of course, my teammates. Can't say enough about the group of guys that we have, how much they mean to me. It's a lot of fun coming to the rink every day. Obviously without it, this would not be possible."

Video: Chara discusses contract extension

Head coach Bruce Cassidy was pleased to learn he'll be able to employ his shutdown defender for another season.

"I'm happy," said Cassidy. "He's great for the Boston Bruins. He appears to be happy, and when he's happy a lot of people are happy in the locker room. Like I said, he's been a real good player for us…it's good for the organization and like I said it's a good move. Makes us a good solid team going forward and he's earned it."

Chara's teammates were also thrilled to hear the news.

"I think it's awesome," said Carlo. "It definitely put a smile on my face hearing that news [Friday]. Pretty cool. I've really looked up to him a lot throughout my first three years here. He's given me so much guidance on and off the ice, I've learned so much from him. I'm glad I get to share that with him for another year and hopefully more after that."

Video: Carlo talks mentor Chara being extended

Zdeno And Father Time

Chara has broken records, won a championship, and cemented his name in the lore of an Original Six franchise - yet it is his longevity that puts the big man in a class of his own amongst his peers.

At 42 years and 6 days old, Chara is the second-oldest player in the National Hockey League behind only Matt Cullen (42 years, 140 days). Chara is also the fifth-oldest defenseman to ever appear in an NHL game. Even after 1419 games, he's still making a difference on the ice each game.

"Defensively, he still impacts our team every night," said Sweeney. "Hard matchups, situational minutes, PK time, really go-to minutes in the course of a hockey game that other teams don't enjoy when he's on the ice."

Video: Sweeney talks to Florida after Chara extension

Chara's longevity has been made possible by a commitment to his health and wellness that his teammates marvel at on a daily basis.

"There are certain things that you see, that you notice and kind of just reminds you of why he's had the career he's had," said McAvoy. "You don't know what hard work is until you've seen him work. Whether it's on the ice, off the ice, diet or whatever it may be, everything is always in the best interest of his career. You can really learn a lot from a guy like that."

Charlie Coyle has shared the ice with Chara for just 14 games since he was traded to Boston, but he has seen firsthand how impressive the B's captain is.

"I've been watching him for years," said Coyle. "Being from Boston, watching him win a Cup, and just the stories you hear around the league. I've never heard a bad thing about him. Then you come to play with him and you see how he is firsthand, he's a very classy guy. He works extremely hard. No wonder he's still playing."

 Video: Coyle discusses new teammate Chara's extension

Despite playing the first eight seasons of his NHL career away from Boston, Chara ranks third all-time among Bruins defenseman in games played with 948, behind only Ray Bourque and Sweeney.

"I feel good," said Chara. "It's one of those things that you don't want to take a step back or take these games lightly. You just want to perform and be the best every night."

Deep into his 21st season, Chara's motivation to play hockey at the highest level hasn't wavered.

"I think that you either have it or you don't," said Chara when asked about what drives him. "I think that I've been always a very driven guy and I love competing. I enjoy coming to the rink and have passion for the sport that gave me so much and really helped me to have a better life and my family. For me it's just keep going and keep proving that it's possible. I think that there is still room to improve, still things that I would like to reach and accomplish as a team. So yeah, why not?"

That drive is evident by how hard he works every single day.

"You're not going to question Zee's work ethic," said Sweeney. "Let's be honest, he's a machine that way. But the internal drive has to be the one that tells you every day to get up and do the things that your capable of doing because you're no longer going to reach the same benchmarks that you used to. It's just Father Time. But to try and get back as close as possible is what drives Zee. An enormous amount of pride and the leadership side of it. For us, it's a win."

Leader, Mentor, Mainstay

In 13 seasons with the Black & Gold, Chara has served many roles for the team. From Captain and power-play threat to emotional leader and PK powerhouse, Chara has done it all. Today in 2019, the big man has embraced the opportunity to be a mentor for the next generation of NHLers.

"It's really hard to put into words," said McAvoy on the impact Chara has had on him. "It's kind of indescribable just how much he's helped me grow into myself. I'm still developing in so many ways on and off the ice. But having someone like him who is just really the consummate pro. Everything he does is just the perfect example of how everyone on our team should act and how a lot of guys who strive to have the career he's had should behave. Just very lucky. I don't take it for granted to be able to play with a guy like that."

Video: McAvoy talks D partner Chara's extension

Chara is up to 21 years older than some of his teammates, and they look up to him both literally and figuratively.

"With how much you look up to him, you definitely see him in that figure of being like more of a father figure type," said Carlo. "But at the same time, he's such a good teammate. It's fun to go out and enjoy and have a good time with him as well. He's not shy to have a little fun as well. He's not above that because of his age which we really appreciate because in those moments it's a lot of fun for us younger guys."

The mentor aspect of his job has come naturally.

"I enjoy my role," said Chara. "I really take a lot of pride into being a captain and being one of those mentor guys that we try to help younger guys to lead them in the right direction and make sure that they keep getting better and better. It's like I said, a lot of fun to be part of. I think that coming up, a future, this team is in the right place. For sure want to be part of it and still contribute with the experiences I have."

On the ice, the duo of Chara and Carlo form one of the more fearsome penalty killing D-pairs in the league. Off it, a friendship thrives.

"Off the ice, he's kind of talked to me about different things from situations," said Carlo. "With the girlfriend, to finances, to everything. He's just a good friend to have as well. I feel like regardless of how long he plays, which is hopefully still a while, he'll always be a resource for all of us young guys that have gotten the pleasure to play with him."

McAvoy has had Chara as his primary partner for much of his first two seasons in the NHL.

"We've gotten really comfortable playing with each other," said McAvoy. "Just our friendship, our relationship on and off the ice has grown significantly since we first met a couple years ago. Seems like it's been a long time since then. I'm just so lucky to play with a guy like that. I know he knows my tendencies, I know his. He looks out for me on the ice. So many things about playing with him, I'm so thankful for. He's always got my back."

Looking Ahead

With a passion for the game that shows no signs of dwindling, Chara is excited about the future of the team.

"I think that we all know that next season is very important for our organization," said Chara. "We want to make sure that we - with having talks with Don, we placed the team in the best possible position for upcoming seasons. For sure, that was something that we considered most and put the most value on it and try to work around it."

The NHL is a faster game than ever, but Chara has shown an ability to continue to make an impact. He celebrated his contract extension by scoring his 200th career goal - and adding an assist - against the Florida Panthers.

Video: BOS@FLA: Chara snaps home wrister for 200th NHL goal

"Zee has adapted his own game," said Sweeney. "He's worked on it an awful lot. I just think the situational minutes that we've been able to manage a little bit more effectively. He's bought into that to have an understanding…I just think it's been a philosophical shift from him and us, a plan laid out to what's most effective for our club to be successful."

While Chara would like to play as many minutes as possible, the coaching staff has put an emphasis on keeping him fresh for when the games matter most.

"Sometimes it's easier not to have a conversation you just do it and hope he doesn't get too upset with you," Cassidy said with a chuckle on lightening Chara's workload. "No, we've talked about it…

"Now we've probably got him down to average a couple minutes more or less than he's used to. Again, some of that is a product of, I think we have a good solid D corps that we can use everybody…I think it's worked out well."

Video: Cassidy talks lines vs FLA, Chara's extension

Regardless of his minutes, Chara's presence on the ice and in the locker room is crucial to the success of the team.

"I think that's the thing that separates us," said McAvoy. "Obviously I'm not in any other room, but I can tell you that in this room, him, Bergy, and really down the line from our leadership group, everyone is included right away from the beginning. It doesn't matter if you have zero games or 1,000 games, it doesn't matter.

"As soon as you become a Boston Bruin, you're a part of this team and those guys make sure that you're there for everything, that you're included in everything. If you don't have someone to go eat dinner with, you're going to eat with them.

"They're just so selfless, those guys. That's just the culture that they've created here. It's one of the many reasons that I'm thankful to be a part of the team. I think as a team aspect, that's what I'm most thankful for, is how much everyone loves each other here."

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