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The Perfect Defenseman

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins -- Asked to define himself as a defenseman, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara used 139 words.

"To me, the first priority is hard work," said Chara, now a Norris Trophy finalist. "I always like to work extremely hard on and off the ice. I’m very competitive, I’m very motivated to play against top lines and the best players every night. I take a lot of pride in that, and I just want to help the team as much as I can to win.

"That was always my first thing. I always want to put the team in front of egos or individual goals. To me, that’s the most important thing, and everything else will fall into place.

"I know I’m not the extremely skilled defenseman who’s going to put probably 70 points on the board every year. But I know that if I play my game, I give my team a good chance to win hockey games.

"That’s all I can do," he said.

Asked to define the perfect defenseman, the 2009 Norris Trophy recipient's teammates used two words: Zdeno Chara.

"He uses his size like nobody else," said forward Shawn Thornton when he learned of Chara's nomination. "I mean, for somebody that's 6-foot-9 he's very mobile, and he's proabably the strongest guy in the league.

"Defensively, he's probably the best defenseman in the league. So, the fact that he can put numbers up also, on top of that, makes him a fairly dynamic player and we're fortunate to have him."

For Thornton, Chara's ability to compete in every aspect of the game is what sets him apart.

"He's definitely a complete player," he said. "I mean, people see how good of a player he is, and I think they look past the fact that's he's proabably the toughest guy in the league, too, so there's not much he can't do."

"Like I said we're really lucky to have him."

Asked what makes Chara unique, Chris Kelly, a teammate of of the B's captain in Ottawa and now in Boston, gave a dissertation.

"His sheer presence on the ice - you're not gonna find a guy that's 6-foot-9, that skates the way he does, shoots the puck the way he does and conducts himself in that manner," said Kelly. "I think every team would love to have 'Zee.' And I think if you asked 29 other GMs in the league who would be the first defenseman they'd pick, I think 29 GMs would say Zee.

"That being said, obviously his on-ice play [sets him apart], but...he's the leader of this team and to see how he's grown into that role from when I played with him in Ottawa -- obviously, he wore a letter in Ottawa and he was a big part of our team there and that team's success before I got there -- but to see him embrace the 'C' here and be able to conduct himself the way he does, take ownership of this orgainization has been great to see."

While Chara is sometimes criticized for a percieved soft-spoken, stoic nature, fellow blueliner Johnny Boychuk echoed Kelly's praise of Chara's leadership, putting those criticisms of his captain to rest.

"Obviously, nobody sees what goes on in the dressing room and with him being our captain he shows us the way most of the time," said Boychuk. "There's a lot of leaders on this team, but he steps up and does the right thing."

Of the B's captain's leadership, defenseman Shane Hnidy, who like Kelly, has played alongside Chara in Ottawa and (in two stints) in Boston said, "I've seen it grow.

"Knowing Zee for seven, eight years now and having played with him for over half of them, you see how he's grown.

"He really takes it upon himself and...holds himself accountable, which is what you have to do as a leader and he knows when he has to be better and, in turn, pushes everyone else who realize, 'You know, if he's going to work like that to improve his game, everyone else must as well.'

"He does steer the ship," continued Hnidy. "That's part of it. We have a lot of leaders, but he's the head man. He's our big guy and he knows that...he's the driving force."

Recalled Providence defenseman Matt Bartkowski just laughed when asked what he takes from watching Chara play.

"Well, for me it's a little tough, because I could only dream to be good as him, someday," said Bartkowski with a laugh. "So it's tough to kind of take stuff because some of the stuff he does I'll never be able to do.

"And he's probably in the best shape, definitely on the team, if not the league, so he's just a monster," said Bartkowski with another laugh. "So it's tough to approach it how he does, again, because there's no way I'm ever going to be as big as him, but his work ethic definitely, you can take a lot from that."

Gregory Campbell has been on both sides of the coin, and has played alongside and against Chara.

"Well, for the obvious reasons that he's 6-foot-9 and 260 that's an intimidating presence to have to play against," said Campbell. "He's just extremely strong, he's got the big long reach and it's tough to take the puck off him.

"If you watch the games, he rarely ever gets out-battled and he's got the big shot. I think those are the obvious things.

"The things that you don't see are his leadership qualities off the ice is what kind of opened my eyes a little bit coming here and playing with him - to see how hard he works off the ice and how big a part he is of this team and the leaderhip group off the ice and what he means to us," explained the former Florida Panther.

"You saw when he wasn't in Game 2 there -- how much it hurt us -- and I think a lot of that had to do with his presence in the room."

Chara's head coach concurred with his charges.

"Obviously, he’s a well-deserving player," said Claude Julien. "There are a lot of reasons, I think everyone who knows him here knows he plays lots of minutes, he also always plays against other team’s top lines. He’s utilized as a shutdown D against the top players on other teams. The stats at the end of the year...I think that speaks for itself.

"So if you’re talking about Norris and talking about a defenseman that bring a lot, he’s certainly one of them.

"And I don’t think there are many players in this league who will raise their hand and say they really enjoy playing against him."
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