|Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara, of Slovakia, checks New Jersey Devils' Jamie Langenbrunner.
Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara
is, quite literally, the biggest man in the NHL.
At 6'9 and 251 pounds, his is an imposing figure on the Boston Bruins blue line. In 610 NHL games, he has 68 goals, 150 assists and is a cumulative +27. Entering his 10th season, he has appeared in two NHL All-Star games and possesses the league's hardest shot.
But the only time that Zdeno Chara
seems smaller than his towering frame is when someone brings up 2006-07, his first in Black & Gold. The effect is momentary, an optical illusion, but its certainly seems tangible enough.
And it's understandable.
Signed as a free agent, Chara, now 30 years old, no doubt felt that he could help put the B's back on a winning track. As captain, the proud son of a Olympic level wrestler, a man who rides his bicycle over mountains for fun, surely felt powerless during a Bruins season charitably described as inconsistent. Now, with a different coach, several different teammates and even a new style spoked-B on his chest, the Boston superman wants to lead his squad into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That's why, since the final horn last April, Chara has trained, nearly every day, working toward the moment that he and his teammates will hit the ice at the TD Banknorth Garden to begin the 2007-08 schedule. Despite getting married (to the beautiful Tatiana) and all of the wonderful times that come with a wedding, Chara spent significant time preparing himself for the challenge of his second year as Boston's captain.
"For sure, (losing) is very frustrating when you want to do well and you want to win as many games as possible and make the playoffs," said Chara after a recent skate. "And for sure, it was a little bit in my head over the summer, but you have to move on.
"As a person and as an athlete, you have to move on."
Chara has moved on, but he hasn't forgotten.
If it is possible, he seems to have expanded his formidable physique in an effort to increase his own on-ice presence in the coming campaign. His legendary workout routine does not seem to have slackened (although he did not bicycle as much as he had in previous summers), nor has his desire to spend as much time as possible on the blue line.
"Every failure is also an experience and you have to learn from it," said the defenseman and workout workaholic. "I am ready to go this year."
It's the same phrase that we have heard from many of the other returning Bruins, as well.
Players like Glen Murray, Patrice Bergeron
and Marc Savard
, all sick of trying to explain last season, are all looking forward. And to facilitate a team wide turnaround, many of them have been on the ice in Wilmington (or elsewhere) for much of the summer.
"We just have to be better. Period," said Zdeno when asked what the remedy for the team's issues would be as the club begins the year. "As a team, we have to compete every night and be hard to play against."
Another B's catch phrase from the off-season: Hard to play against.
"Yes, that is something we are trying for," said Chara. "We have to be more physical and a more balanced team than we were last year.
"Everybody just has to be committed to doing their job and we'll be a better team."
Some have said that Chara himself needed to change his game, and as the biggest target on the roster, he has borne the brunt of a lot of criticism -- much of it unfair.
To his credit, Chara explained that he understood the comments.
"I cannot control what other people say," he said. "If you don't have a good season as a team then the criticism is going to come -- that's part of (the job).
"We made some changes..."
Chara seems to have changed, too.
Although he always had a stoic air, a look of determination, he has added a bit of animation, laughter and expression to his person. Often a quick wit in the locker room last season, from the looks of his pre-preseason captain's practices, Chara looked happy and could be seen joking with his fellow Bruins often with a big brotherly arm thrown over a teammate's shoulder.
As a result of those practices, which saw every member of the expected NHL squad participate prior to the 2007 Training Camp, the 2007-08 edition of the Boston Bruins have already begun to gel.
Chara truly believes that the team is already better and looks forward to sharing the leadership role on this improved Bruins squad with other veterans on the club. For Chara, the "C" on his chest represents a challenge to motivate other people to leadership -- not necessarily a license to critique or command.
"We have some really good leaders on the team," said Chara. "And we just have to make sure that everybody is on the same page.
"I think that everybody is really anxious to start and prove that we are a better team than we were last year.
"And I cannot wait for the season to start," he said, with clear sincerity.
Most importantly, Chara looks to prove to the fans of Boston that their team is truly reflective of their own passion and pride in their city and its hockey team. He wants Boston to be proud of the Bruins again.
|Marc Sarvard and Chara |
"I think Boston is a really cool city, with a lot of history and the right combination of people, colleges and universities, and great little neighborhoods like the North End and Chinatown," said Chara, himself a downtown Boston resident. "So you have a great mix of people in the city and that's what makes Boston special.
"And, off course, the history is not just in the city itself, but in its sports teams, as well.
"The fans are very passionate and they want to see us win, and it's up to us to make sure that we do win games and bring them to the Garden…it is up to us to win as many games as we can and win the fans back," he said.
Those wins will come rolling down the Pike.
And when that happens Zdeno Chara
will look bigger than life and it won't be an illusion.