Chara, who is in the midst of his first season with the Washington Capitals, is routinely described as humble and polite, a player whose demeanor off the ice gained him additional respect throughout his 23-year NHL career. He is also seen as a teacher in the league, someone with a willingness to help others.
“First and foremost I think you have to be a good human being,” said Chara, who spent more than a decade as captain of the Boston Bruins before he arrived in Washington on a one-year deal. “You know, I always try to respect people around me, the people that I interact with.”
It’s this mind-set that has helped a lot of younger players Chara, 43, has interacted with over the years.
“It is nice to see them do well,” Chara said. “It is nice to see that they establish themselves in the National Hockey League, and you kind of always feel like you have a good feeling, that you were kind of little part of that process.”
Boston defenseman Charlie McAvoy, 23, was Chara’s defensive partner with the Bruins for three years. He still remembers the day he met him in 2017. He described Chara as “larger than life,” with the 6-foot-9 captain towering over him as the two shook hands.
“From the beginning I come in and just believe in him and I knew he was the best and if I had this guy in my corner and telling me things to do, I knew I needed to listen to him,” McAvoy said.
McAvoy still describes Chara as a role model. On the ice, Chara taught a once-quiet McAvoy to communicate more, a skill McAvoy now tries to pass on to the other Bruins blue-liners.
“He puts everything together and still is such an incredible hockey player, which I feel like defies so many laws of physics and everything,” said McAvoy, who called Chara his “on-the-fly teacher” when he was first entering the league. “He truly is an incredible athlete.”
Boston winger David Pastrnak, who entered the Bruins’ locker room at age 18, also found a guide in Chara, who showed him how to carry himself both on and off the ice.
“He [taught] me how to be a pro, to be honest,” Pastrnak said. “Sounds like one of the simplest things. But at the same time, for a young player to become a real pro and act like a pro and behave, it’s not always easy.”
Washington Capitals great Peter Bondra, who played with and against Chara throughout his NHL career, considers Chara a good friend. The two have houses next to each other in Slovakia and see each other on occasion.
He can attest to Chara’s legendary workouts, which, according to Bondra, happen four to five times a day. A few years ago, Bondra’s two sons, who are now 24 and 28, asked to work out with the NHLer. He not only obliged, he also wrote down a full routine for the pair to follow in the future.
Bondra said his boys still use the workout tips and the papers are still in his basement.
Early in Chara’s career, when he played for the New York Islanders, Bondra had to remind Chara that if he treated him like a friend, he would find himself in the coach’s office the next day. The day after Bondra gave Chara that advice, Chara hit him so hard during a game that he “flipped like a cat.”
“Obviously we talked after that game and we laughed, but I felt like a train hit me or something,” Bondra said.
Bondra said he was thrilled that Chara landed in Washington.
“I felt like: ‘Wow. Great, Coach has a coach in the locker room,’ ” Bondra said. “I think that was great move, especially with new coach Peter Laviolette coming to a new team and bring Z at the same time, I believe that is a big help with the transition.”
A month into the season, the addition of Chara has already made an impact on a Capitals roster filled with leaders.
“He’s a leader. Everyone looks up to him, and he’s certainly not just looking around trying to make assumptions about people,” defenseman John Carlson said. “He wants to get to know you and to be a part of the process.”
Washington’s players routinely note that whenever Chara speaks, everyone listens. His fabled gym routine is carefully watched, and his on-ice tendencies have players asking the veteran more and more questions.
“When you see him walk around, when you see him in the gym, there’s just that feeling that he puts off, that vibe that he puts off that just makes everyone around him want to get better,” winger Tom Wilson said. “He’s an amazing leader … I’ve found myself getting better just being around him.”
McAvoy, speaking from experience, echoed Wilson’s statement and took it a bit further, encouraging the Capitals players to not “take a second for granted.”
“To be able to say you played with him, I know for me personally, it is something I am going to be telling my kids about one day,” McAvoy said. “ … to be able to say I was Zdeno Chara’s D-partner for three years is something I will have forever, something I definitely don’t take for granted at all.”
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