Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara has won a Stanley Cup, a Norris Trophy, a Mark Messier Leadership Award, played in six NHL All-Star Games and holds the hardest-shot competition record with a blast of 108.8 mph.
But when I think of Chara, his one accomplishment that amazes me most is the 35 pull-ups he did at age 40 to win that competition during the Bruins’ pre-season testing two years ago at training camp. Men who are 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds were not built to do pull-ups at any age.
Tuesday night at the Bell Centre, the 42-year-old Chara played in his 1,500th career NHL regular-season game, becoming only the sixth defenseman and the 21st player to reach that milestone.
Claude Julien coached Chara and the Bruins when they won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and the Canadiens’ head coach celebrated his own milestone Tuesday night with his 1,200th regular-season game behind an NHL bench.
“He’s as committed as you’ll find,” Julien said about Chara.
“When you talk about conditioning, he’s always been one of those guys that wants to be in the best shape he can be and likes to be in the top shape of his whole team.
For him, training camp and that first day of testing were important. He wanted to be first in everything.
So his Competitive level, as you can see, is really high and because he’s kept himself in great shape and because he’s so committed to doing whatever it takes to remain in the league and be part of it (there have) been adjustments along the way.
“In his early 30s, he was just a dominant strong player that had an unbelievable shot,” Julien added. “As he got older, he worked on the quickness of his feet. So he’s smart that way and it’s allowed him to still play to this day — and not only play, but be an effective player.”
Montreal fans will always remember Chara for the devastating hit he put on Max Pacioretty during a game in March 2011, driving the former Canadien into a Bell Centre stanchion, resulting in a fractured vertebra and a concussion. I never believed Chara purposely drove Pacioretty into the stanchion, but that hit helped earn him the title of Scariest Man in Hockey from The Hockey News.
60 Minutes Sports did an outstanding feature on Chara a few years ago, showing a much softer side of the tallest player ever in the NHL. When asked if it bothered him being called the Scariest Man in Hockey, Chara said: “Maybe a little bit. Because they have to understand it’s a job you have to do on the ice. It’s not like I’m trying to be scary or I’m trying to be mean.”
The reality is when a 6-foot-9, 250-pound defenseman hits you, it’s often going to hurt. It’s ironic that as a young boy growing up in Slovakia, Chara was told “too many times” he was too big to play hockey and should find another sport.
“But the more they were telling me that, the more I wanted to prove them wrong,” Chara told 60 Minutes.
Three times, including when he was 16, Chara was cut from his youth “A” team and dropped to the “B” squad. The New York Islanders selected him in the third round (56th overall) of the 1996 NHL Draft.
Chara’s workout ethic was driven into him by his father, Zdenek, who was a national Greco-Roman wrestling champion and competed for Czechoslovakia at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal.
Chara’s father installed a pull-up bar on a tree in the family backyard and Chara wasn’t allowed to walk past it without doing a certain number of reps. Chara doesn’t drink alcohol or coffee and, at age 40, adopted a plant-based diet, no longer eating beef, chicken, pork or dairy.
Away from the rink, Chara and his wife, Tatiana Biskupicova, have three children — including twin boys.
He speaks seven languages,
has a financial planning diploma from Ottawa’s Algonquin College
and a real-estate license in Massachusetts.
Chara is not your typical hockey player.
Heading into his 1,500th career game, Chara had 2-3-5 totals in 14 games this season while averaging 21:58 of ice time and was plus-13, the third-best plus/minus rating in the NHL.
“It’s a lot of games,” Chara told reporters Tuesday morning at the Bell Centre. “Obviously, very humble about it. I’ve had so many people that I should be thanking, obviously starting with my parents. They did such a great job of raising me. So much they sacrificed for me to be able to play hockey. My family, my wife, my children … there’s so many people, like I said.
“I’ve been very lucky and very grateful that I’ve been able to be in the right place at the right time and get to know some very special people along the way,” he added. “Obviously, all the teammates, coaches, they’ve been tremendously helpful and I couldn’t be playing the game without them. So it’s a special, special night.”
For a very special player.
WOW! Chara is a beast! “…too big to play hockey”, yeah right! Zdeno has shown what a commitment he was willing to make to be an effective, if not superb NHL hockey player. What is more impressive is that his commitment has spanned longer than his hockey career and will likely stay with him for the rest of his life. Mastering seven languages, a degree in finance and a real estate license shows us how much one can do when committed to the process.
Stick with it guys. With hard work, you can and will accomplish greatness!
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