BOSTON– After the ceremonial puck was dropped, Zdeno Chara shared a round of handshakes with the two captains in front of him, the Minnesota Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon and Boston Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. After the handshake, Bergeron and Chara embraced, and as Bergeron ran away, he pointed back at Chara, signaling to the crowd the immense influence of the man in front of him.
The Bruins honored Chara before their game against the Wild at the TD Garden on Saturday, a month after he retired from the NHL to end his 24-year career. The 45-year-old dropped the puck alongside his 6-year-old twin sons, Ben and Zack.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Bruins To David Pastr said. “Incredible career. We all know what he has achieved here. So the recognition he has received is well deserved.”
The likely Hockey Hall of Famer played 14 of his best seasons in Boston, leading the Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup and winning the 2009 Norris Trophy, which was voted the NHL’s best defenseman. He joined Boston as a free agent in 2006-07 after stints with the New York Islanders, including his debut in 1997-98, and the Ottawa Senators.
Before Chara walked out to drop the puck, the TD Garden scoreboard read “Thank you Zdeno Chara” and a video played, beginning with his appearance in Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals when he suffered a broken jaw Game 4 of the series went on the ice. It ended with Chara lifting the trophy in 2011, two of the most iconic moments for the defender in a career full of such events that drew a sustained ovation.
In the dressing room before the game and during media interviews afterwards, the Bruins wore T-shirts that read “Thank you, Big Zee” and a picture of Chara in his No. 33 jersey.
Although Bruins coach Jim Montgomery never coached Chara, he said he was blown away by his Sept. 20 retirement press conference when Chara spoke about the importance of family and its values.
“I had heard so much about the character, about the man and the values, the integrity, I guess,” Montgomery said. “I’m very grateful to him because I know what the culture is like in that dressing room and I think he’s the one who changed it.”
Under Chara’s leadership, the Bruins made the Stanley Cup playoffs in 11 of 14 seasons and three trips to the Stanley Cup Finals (2011, 2013 and 2019) and won an epic seven-game streak against the Vancouver Canucks. Chara played 14 Game 7s, the most in NHL history.
“He’s a guy I have so much respect for,” Bruins said Nick Foligno, who played against Chara in the NHL for years. “Because he did, he came here and completely changed the culture. The way he played to be that big, the way he dominated and the way he worked at his craft, I think that was something I’ve always admired about him as a professional and there’s just so much respect going towards him for the leader he is and the family man he is.
“You appreciate playing against such legends in the game and I think knowing what he meant to this organization and being here now, it was an honor to be a part of it tonight. I hope he gets a lot more recognition for what he’s done for this city and this team.”
Foligno recalled some net fights with Chara, particularly on power play.
“I just had to put on an extra pad because of him,” Foligno said with a smile. “He liked his cross checks. It was fun though. I think we respected the way he played the game, how hard he would play, how hard I would go for him. It made some nights pretty tough , especially how dominant he was, but you stand up for playing against players like that. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge.”
Chara ranks sixth in Bruin history in games played (1,023) and third in points by a defender (481) behind Ray Bourque (1,506) and Bobby Orr (888), both Hall of Famers. He is seventh in games in NHL history (1,680) and first among defensemen.
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