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Chara praised by past Bruins captains ahead of 1,500th NHL game

O'Reilly, Bourque, Cashman, Bucyk, Middleton cite defenseman's leadership, toughness

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Zdeno Chara's strength, conditioning and massive physique have made the Boston Bruins captain an impressive, often dominant player throughout 22 NHL seasons. 

As the 42-year-old prepares to play his 1,500th regular-season NHL game at the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, RDS, TSN2, NHL.TV), former Bruins captain Terry O'Reilly envisions something special in the 6-foot-9 defenseman's future: Chara's No. 33 retired to the rafters of TD Garden.

"I like just about everything that Zee has done over the years," said O'Reilly, who wore the "C" on his Boston jersey from 1983-85 and is one of the most beloved Bruins of all time. "I can't think of a flaw in his game. 

"He's been probably one of the best captains in the history of the Boston Bruins. He's played any kind of hockey you want to play. He's been used since he arrived here (in 2006-07) to shut down the best offensive players in the NHL. He's taken it upon himself to see that none of his teammates are abused, but he does it with almost a Don Quixote attitude. He doesn't go after anybody. But if they come at him and hit him hard, he plays that kind of game."


[RELATED: Chara timeline filled with memorable moments]


O'Reilly played his entire 891-game NHL career for the Bruins from 1971-85, scoring 606 points (204 goals, 402 assists) and rumbling his way into the hearts of Bostonians as he was assessed 2,095 hard-earned penalty minutes.

"Zee will take a good, clean, hard check and it won't faze him at all," O'Reilly said. "But if somebody gets one of his teammates late or dirty, he's right there and he's telling how unacceptable it is. Even then, he'll get a big, tough, well-established scrapper, handle him quite easily. I'm amazed at his self-control in situations like that. 

"He's got such a solid game defensively with his reach and his size and his toughness. That shot from the blue line on the power play doesn't hurt, either. Off the ice, and in the community, Zee has just been a blessing. I fully expect to see his number up in the rafters down the road.

"I'm not surprised that he's is still playing as effectively as he is. He plays a very clean but hard game. If you're a smaller forward, under or around 6 feet and you're going into the corner, it's going to hurt. For an awful lot of players, that takes a little bit of an edge off their game. Then there's his experience, knowing where to position himself. The radius he can reach with that long arm and stick, that's tough to score goals against."

Chara was selected by the New York Islanders in the third round (No. 56) of the 1996 NHL Draft. He played 231 games in four seasons with the Islanders then was traded to the Ottawa Senators in 2001. Chara played 299 games in four seasons with the Senators, and he signed with the Bruins as a free agent in 2006. He has played 969 games with the Bruins.

Chara has 646 points (202 goals, 444 assists) in the NHL. 

On the eve of Chara's 1,500th game, four other former Bruins captains spoke to about the veteran's longevity and leadership, and more.

Ray Bourque, Hall of Famer, co-captain with Rick Middleton 1985-88, captain 1988-2000:

"I remember seeing Zee come into the League, and what he's since made of himself as a player and a Norris Trophy winner (2008-09). He's an example for teammates to follow. His leadership, how he prepares, his perseverance and his passion, the way he goes about his business - it's ideal.

"I've always said your best players should be your best people. Chara is a gift. In Boston we have him and (New England Patriots quarterback Tom) Brady, doing remarkable things in their 40s. The longevity and the success they've both had is incredible."

Rick Middleton, co-captain with Ray Bourque 1985-88:

"Like Ray Bourque did before him, Zee has learned to adjust his game as hockey has changed. Rules today say the defenseman can hardly touch the forward once he lets go of the puck, that he has to turn and skate with him. That's something that younger players learn all the way up now, but Zee had to adjust to it midstream as he was getting older. With his range and his size and his smarts, I think he can play for at least another couple of years. I hope he does because the Bruins need his leadership.

"Today, when someone chips the puck in around Zee, he's got to turn and figure out the angle because he may not be as quick as that forward. He's got to adjust his game to the speed. His instincts take over. It's been amazing to me that he's not been exposed that way. (Hall of Fame defenseman) Brad Park was the same. When he had bad knees and lost a lot of his speed, he adjusted by learning the angles better, maybe when to turn a little earlier or not go as deep in the zone. Zee has done that.

"Look up leader in the dictionary and Zee would fit every description of the word. And he's always in control on the ice. He's so big and strong that he could hurt guys any time he wanted if he was a mean guy. But he plays with control."

Wayne Cashman, captain 1977-83:

"Right away, you recognize the great respect that Bruins players have for him, and how they look up to him. Here's a guy who's played 1,500 games and he didn't play 10 minutes a game, he played 25, 30 minutes a game (averaging almost 24 minutes per game for his career). It's incredible, what the man has done. Everything he does in his life, he tries to do it right and to the best of his ability.

"You hear stories about him being in the gym every day … he's conditioned to play the game and he's adjusted to the game. He's playing slightly fewer minutes now, but I don't see any reason why he couldn't play two or three more years. You can see that he's very dedicated and he's adjusted [to new rules] extremely well. You can see how he positions himself on the ice.

"Chara definitely has leadership, you can see it. His mental attitude is unreal. Sometimes, things don't have to be said. For other players, it's just being around him, seeing how he prepares and how he plays. 'This guy is giving 100 percent. He's our captain, so I have to give 100 percent.' Sometimes, nothing at all needs to be said."

Johnny Bucyk, Hall of Famer, captain 1966-77:

"Zdeno works out every day even when he's injured. He'll battle for his teammates. If somebody goes after a player for no reason at all, he'll step right in. His biggest problem, if you want to call it that, is that he's so strong, he doesn't want to hurt anybody. He's very dedicated. I appreciate watching him. He's had a great career and it's not over yet. 

"Being named captain is a big thrill, a big responsibility. There's a lot of things you have to do, most of all performance. I wasn't vocal in the dressing room, so I did my leading on the ice. That's something for the younger players coming up to look at. I think Chara has done the same thing. He helps a lot of the younger players, particularly the defense.

"I'm always happy to say he's a very good friend of mine. When we get together, it's just to shoot the breeze and talk about our families. You get enough hockey stuff after a few years and there's nothing I could teach him or tell him. And vice-versa. We just talk about each other, how our teams have been. I like to talk to him about his kids and his place over in Slovakia, and he talks about where I go for the summer in the Canadian Rockies. Discussing players is up to the coaching staff. For us, it's personal stuff between close friends. He's something special, a tough man and a good man."

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