NHL players almost always play a former team at their former home arena during their career. But this return, like with most things having to do with Zdeno Chara, was just bigger.
Chara, who agreed to a one-year contract with the Washington Capitals this offseason, returned to face the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-9 defenseman, the tallest player in NHL history, played 14 seasons for the Bruins and helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2011.
The Bruins put together a touching tribute video, featuring career highlights from his time on and off the ice in Boston. The team sprinkled in thank you messages from fans, who were not able to be in the building do to ongoing COVID-19 precautions.
"I felt a little bad for him that there wasn't 18,000-plus fans here giving him the ovation he deserved, to be honest with you," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "That would've been a real nice thing for him, but obviously that's not able to be done right now with the circumstances, so too bad for him."
Both teams stopped and tapped their sticks in recognition of Chara's return while the video played.
Chara played four seasons with the New York Islanders and four with the Ottawa Senators before signing with the Bruins as a free agent in July 2006. He immediately took over as captain and held the title until his departure from this offseason.
"I think Zdeno, one thing I've learned about him is he's a humble guy. He's very appreciative of things like this," Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. "And then you also realize his professionalism and how quickly he moves past it and he gets himself into the game and involved in the game. And guys played hard tonight ... I'm really happy for him, that we were able to come in and help him out and get a win in his first game back in Boston."
"Obviously, we love Z. He was a great teammate and a phenomenal role model for everyone here. Really came in, was a big reason why the organization turned around," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "It's always great to see him and play against him. Nice little tribute, but I'm sure he'll enjoy the next one when the fans are here."
NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin and independent correspondent Matt Kalman contributed to this report