As a young Slovakian hockey player, it’s hard not to look up to Zdeno Chara.
The Boston Bruins defenceman is not just an imposing physical specimen, standing at 6-foot-9 and weighing over 250 pounds, but he also commands respect with his play as one of the best in the business.
That is why the Edmonton Oilers are hoping that Chara rubs off on their young blueliner, Martin Marincin, when the two of them join forces at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia for Team Slovakia.
“In terms of his development and the benefits for the Oilers long term, you couldn’t ask for anything better,” Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe said. “He’s going to play on the world stage like that and he’s going to be in the same dressing room with a guy like Zdeno Chara. What a remarkable leader and the guy has achieved everything so it’s really good for Martin Marincin and good for us.”
After the game in Boston against the Bruins on February 1, Oilers Head Coach Dallas Eakins called in a favour to Chara, whom he had previously met while at a New York Islanders training camp early in the defence man’s career.
“I was calling in a favour,” Eakins said. “I’ve gotten to know Chara over the years. I saw him, at a very early age, with the New York Islanders. I was there at training camp the one year and I saw him starting to put in the work. He was obsessed with it. He’s turned into, for me, one of the top players in the game, a guy with extremely high character, great work ethic, extremely humble and I had talked to Marty about his Olympic experience and the importance of him asking Chara a lot of questions.”
The favour was a simple one, but it could prove significant to Marincin’s long term success.
“I asked Z after the game… I said I’d like to call in a favour to help this young man; Mr. Marincin. Z was great and he said he’d spend lots of time with him. Zdeno even texted me later, after we were on the plane, just reiterating what he promised. That’s a guy for Marty that… Chara wasn’t quite as light as Marincin is now, but if Marty commits to (taking) that level of commitment that Chara has with his body, then that will speed the process in him being a very good player in this league.”
|Martin Marincin and Zdeno Chara will represent Slovakia at the Winter Olympics. Photo by Getty Images. |
It didn’t take much of a push to get Chara to make good on that favour.
“I walked out to go track down 'Z' and he was already there. Once again, just an amazing player, a great captain and that’s a player, the qualities in a player, that’s what you want to really go after if you’re a guy like Marincin.”
Chara says, he was happy to help an old friend and a new one.
“I know Dallas from my first few years with (New York) and he saw me at the beginning of my career,” the giant defenceman said. “Maybe there are some similarities with Martin. He just kind of asked me if there would be a time and chance to maybe give him some advice if I would be able of willing to do that. I said of course. I’m always willing to help or give some advice if I may. He was obviously very kind to come over and say hi. I really appreciated that. It means a lot.”
That moment in Boston, with Chara, Eakins and Marincin standing around by the locker rooms and chatting, was surreal for Marincin. The defenceman grew up in Kosice, Slovakia just four hours away from Chara’s hometown of Trencin. The Bruins blue liner is something of a role model to the young Oilers player.
“That was a big moment for me because he is like, my idol,” Marincin said. “That was great meeting him and talking with him about Sochi so I was so excited.”
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Eakins says that Marincin picked the perfect guy to emulate.
“That’s a good idol,” Eakins said. “I like that. That’s the full package for me. A guy that can play the game anyway you want. You want to play the hard game? Let’s go. You want to play a skilled game? You need me to play 40 minutes tonight? He’s good with it. He’s just a great individual and I’m excited that Marincin is going to get to have that. Not only the Olympic experience, that’s out of this world. But then to have a guy like that mentoring him for a few weeks is going to be excellent.”
On the flip-side of things, Chara is relatively unfamiliar with Marincin but says the entire Slovakian Olympic Team is excited to meet the young kid.
“I heard he’s obviously, a young and talented player that has a lot of potential,” Chara said. “But probably most of us Slovaks, I would say, we haven’t seen Martin in a lot of action so we’re kind of looking forward to meeting him and get to know him.”
Chara has chiseled away at his craft since being drafted in the third round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. One of the areas of his game that is most impressive is how he has managed to work at getting stronger over the years while developing a physically and skillfully imposing style of play that is regarded as the NHL’s elite.
“I always try to improve, I always try to have the willingness to do whatever it takes and still, to this day, I’m trying to always improve and get better.”
Adding strength has been a reoccurring theme for the improvement of Marincin’s game. It is something that Chara feels needs to be embedded in a player’s DNA.
“I think, there is no secret. There’s always the commitment and always the willingness to work hard and try to always improve. You can’t really teach that. Either he has it, or he doesn’t. That’s not one area that I’m going to try to convince somebody to work hard or convince him that there is always room to improve. Either the player gets it, or he doesn’t.”
|Photo by Getty Images. |
Chara has seen it all in his career. He has played in six NHL All-Star Games, he’s won the James Norris Memorial Trophy, the Mark Messier Leadership Award and a Stanley Cup. This will be his third time at the Olympics. Chara knows a thing or two about how important big events like the Olympics can be for a young player.
“I think it’s huge. Just to be in the big spotlight, on the big stage with the best players in the world, I think it’s always helpful and it’s a great experience. Everything about it is probably a good thing for not just him, but everybody.”
It’s Marincin’s first NHL season and he’s heading to the world’s biggest stage. That can be a lot for a young player to handle, but the experience is worth it.
“Yeah (it’s a lot), but it’s better than getting none,” Eakins said. “He should be like a sponge right now, just sucking it all in, and at the same time, enjoying the experience and being very proud of it as well.”
Marincin has opened eyes with his play this season since being called up from the Oklahoma City Barons, for what appears like a long-term arrangement. He leads the team in plus-minus and has shown a willingness and competence to take on more minutes for the Oilers.
“I think, coming in here, I didn’t know the player very well,” Eakins said. “In training camp, I thought he was OK. He’s played much better than I had expected him to play. I think there’s been a few nights where his strength has probably caught up to him and that’s a good thing though because that’s a great reminder of the work that he has to do. He’s one of our D back there that has the ability to make a play… You can see his progress, you can see where he can go and the next step for him is going to be his body, his mass and his strength. That’s going to be the big step for him.”
Learning from Chara can only help Marincin’s bright future get a little brighter.
“(Chara) is perceived as one of the ultimate leaders in the NHL right now. That’ll be a great experience for (Marincin),” Lowe said.