UNIONDALE, N.Y. — There are few players in history that have truly captivated the NHL as much as Zdeno Chara.
At 6-foot-9, 250-pound Chara is a rare physical specimen for any position, especially defenseman. His leadership abilities, bone-crushing hits and borderline psychotic facial expressions during fights are just small parts of what makes Boston’s captain one of the most unique players of all-time.
It all started on Long Island some twenty years ago.
The Islanders selected Chara in the third round — 56th overall — in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. But his tenure at Nassau Coliseum wasn’t always smooth sailing. Chara tallied just 29 points and a minus-63 rating over the course of four seasons with the Islanders.
Yet, the tallest player in league history admitted that his career might not have taken off if he had started out in the puck-moving defensive era.
“It’s tough to say. It’s different times. I think they still value the size, toughness and strength,” Chara said following Tuesday’s morning skate. “It’s still valuable. I don’t think it’s something that you can just completely ignore and think that now you are just going to look for players who are highly skilled and can skate. The game, system, rules and everything were just different back then.”
Those were different times indeed and Chara’s career turned out just fine. He became a household name with the Ottawa Senators and eventually earned the honors of team captain in his very first season with the Bruins.
Now in his 23rd season, the wily veteran’s career will come full circle when the Bruins head back to the Nassau Coliseum for the first time since 2015 to take on his former team.
This squad is different than the team that last appeared on Long Island four years ago. Chara and the Bruins come in confident and poised for a deep playoff run.
“Good to be back, actually. Good to be back at Nassau, seeing the nice changes,” Chara added. “I don’t think that it’s an ideal situation for them being in Brooklyn. I really think they belong to Long Island [and] I think the fans deserve to have their team on Long Island.”
The timing of the trip couldn’t have been more perfect either as Chara — still undecided about his future — turned 42 this past week. His teammates still had some fun at his expense during Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
“The fellas got him a nice cake and sang him happy birthday right in this room this morning,” Bruce Cassidy said. “I thought it was great, good for them. He probably won’t eat it, I will because I think it’s bad luck if you don’t.”
All reunions aside, Chara and the Bruins will have their hands full Tuesday night against the Metropolitan Division-leading Islanders. Boston won’t have a fully healthy lineup this time around — unlike its 3-1 victory over the Isles the last time these two teams met. They may get David Pastrnak back (broken thumb, gametime decision), but Torey Krug (concussion), Matt Grzelcyk (upper body), Kevan Miller (upper body) and Marcus Johansson (long contusion) are all out with their respective injuries.
Every point is crucial with only ten games remaining in the regular season. Cassidy, Chara and the rest of the Bruins could use at least one point — and inch closer toward securing home ice for their inevitable first-round matchup with the Maple Leafs — to begin their four-game road trip.
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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