Chara plays leading role
Bruin’s team wins All-Star Game
OTTAWA - On Feb. 25, when Zdeno Chara and the Bruins next play at Scotiabank Place, there will be boos for the Boston captain. It is the chorus Chara has grown used to hearing, not only at the rink he once called home but in arenas around the league.
Yet for one weekend, Chara received nothing but cheers from his former Ottawa fans. He deserved every single one.
“Z was a great ambassador,’’ Bruins coach Claude Julien said after yesterday’s All-Star Game, which pitted Team Chara against Daniel Alfredsson’s entry. “Just like Alfie was. I don’t think they could have made better choices as for who would be ambassadors. They took that job seriously. They did their homework well.’’
It matters little that Chara’s club scored a 12-9 win over Team Alfredsson in Canada’s capital. Or that the Boston captain scored the winning goal in the third period. Or that Tim Thomas relieved Jimmy Howard and Carey Price to claim his fourth All-Star Game win.
All of the All-Stars conducted themselves with dignity. They had the tallest player in the league to follow.
Chara’s idol is Nicklas Lidstrom. The ageless Detroit captain is arguably one of the NHL’s five greatest defensemen of all time. Lidstrom plays an elegant style that stands in stark contrast to Chara’s in-your-face approach.
Off the ice, Lidstrom has been one of the game’s most gracious ambassadors. Last year, when the NHL debuted the concept of All-Star Game captains in Raleigh, hometown star Eric Staal was one of them. There was no surprise that Lidstrom was the other.
Lidstrom represented his team and league with class and charm, despite the fact that he and the Red Wings might have benefited from a well-deserved weekend off.
This year, Lidstrom asked not to be considered for the All-Star Game. The 41-year-old has earned that right.
Chara took Lidstrom’s place as one captain alongside former Ottawa teammate Alfredsson. On Thursday, with his first pick, Chara selected Pavel Datsyuk. Chara said he would have picked Lidstrom had he opted to attend.
The entire weekend, in his second language, Chara repeatedly conveyed his pleasure with his role as All-Star captain, the skill of his peers, and the game itself.
As the 34-year-old Chara progresses deeper into his career, he will incorporate more of Lidstrom’s cerebral style into his own game to lessen the position’s physical grinding. But it appears that Chara already has assumed much of Lidstrom’s grace.
Chara served as a civil and humble promoter of hockey. On Saturday, when he received a standing ovation for cranking a slap shot 108.8 miles per hour, Chara appreciated the gesture. Yesterday, he was equally modest. During pregame introductions, Chara strode onto the ice, then took a tight spin at center ice to acknowledge the fans.
After the game, Chara was hustling around the cramped visiting dressing room, asking teammates to sign his jersey. Throughout the entire weekend, Chara had a smile on his face wider than the Rideau Canal.
“It was fun,’’ Chara said. “I enjoyed myself. I think the city of Ottawa and the organization did a great job for the All-Stars. It was a lot to take care of. Lots of fun at the draft. You can’t ask for anything better. It’s a break, so we treated it that way. We wanted to have fun. Most of all, show the skills when there was the time to show them. When there was a time to relax, we wanted to have fun.’’
Becoming a captain wasn’t easy. Especially during his first season in Boston in 2006-07, Chara tried to do too much, on and off the ice. Through experience, he learned that for him, the best way to be a captain was to be himself: the hardest-working, lead-by-example defenseman who inspired his teammates to fall in line behind him.
“Like Alfie, they’re both modest athletes,’’ Julien said of Chara and Alfredsson. “Athletes that have done a lot that could easily make more of it. They always put others in front of them. Even Z, when he was picking the guys for the competitions, he would always put himself last. He put everybody in front of himself. That’s what makes Z pretty special.
“He’s a great team guy. He’s a guy that really cares. Not just as a person. But even as a player, we know that a guy who’s strong like that and big like that, if he didn’t respect the players he played against, there’d be a lot of injuries. He’s tapered his game in a way that he’s effective, but he’s not dangerous.’’
Chara represents the game’s expansion. His roots are in Slovakia, specifically with the Trencin Dukla powerhouse that many of his countrymen (Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik, Miroslav Satan, Andrej Meszaros, and the late Pavol Demitra are among its alumni) once considered their employer. But Chara played junior for Prince George of the WHL, where the European outcast became very busy using his fists to stick up for himself. Chara played in Sweden during the lockout.
Now, Boston is his home. The Bruins are better for that.