A Bruins fan’s stick tap to Zdeno Chara

By Brendan Beauregard, Assistant Sports Editor

Embed from Getty Images

Growing up in the 2000s and 2010s, there was a “Mount Rushmore” of modern-day Boston sports athletes set in stone. The four members: Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics, and last but certainly not least, defenseman Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.

Like Brady and Pierce before him, however, Chara left Boston in favor of another team. The former captain signed a one-year, $795,000 deal with the Washington Capitals on Dec. 30, leaving a historic legacy behind him in Boston.

When Chara signed with Boston way back in July 2006 (doesn’t that make you feel old, Bruins fans?), the little Bruins fan in me had mixed emotions about it. Sure, Chara came in with a solid resume as a multi-time All-Star and usual suspect for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s best defensemen every season. On the flip side, Boston had traded elite center “Jumbo” Joe Thornton to the San Jose Sharks for basically a bag of pucks the year prior, which left a bad taste in my mouth.

As the Bruins transitioned from one large captain, the 6-foot-4 Thornton, to a humongous captain, 6-foot-9 “Big Zee”, however, that bad taste gradually disappeared and became a feeling of gratitude for over the next decade. 

No. 33 was a force on the ice for Boston—both offensively and defensively. With a terrifying slapshot that clocked in as high as a record-breaking 108.8 miles per hour during the 2012 NHL All-Star Skills Competition, you could only imagine what ran through the mind of whoever was in front of a winding-up Chara. 

Chara won the 2008-09 Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman during his third season as a Bruin. His stat line that season speaks for itself, recording a career-high 19 goals, 50 total points, plus-23 rating, 11 power-play goals, 121 blocked shots, and average ice time of over 26 minutes per game, according to Hockey Reference. It’s hard to argue the big guy didn’t deserve the trophy that season.

Additionally, the big defenseman was part of the core that helped Boston win its first Stanley Cup since 1972 in the 2010-11 season. The Bruins’ captain shut down every opponent’s top line alongside his defense partner Dennis Seidenberg, led all Boston skaters in ice time with over 27 minutes per game, and recorded a team-high plus-16 rating.

It still feels like yesterday that I watched Chara joyously hoist the Cup in Vancouver after the Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7. Chara’s hat flying off of his head is a textbook example of what it means to win the biggest championship in professional hockey.

Personally, however, that isn’t my favorite Chara moment. That honor belongs to his introduction prior to the start of Game Five of the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals against the St. Louis Blues. Chara took Brayden Schenn’s wrist shot to the face in Game Four, suffering a broken jaw. When the series came back to TD Garden for the next game, Bruins’ fans roared when they saw their captain on the ice in the starting lineup wearing a face shield on his helmet. If you ever talk about chills, that ovation is it, folks.

Bruins’ star left winger Brad Marchand said it best during a press conference on Aug. 31, 2020 when talking about what Big Zee meant to the Bruins and the city of Boston.

“He’s an icon in Boston,” Marchand said. ”He’s one of the most, if not the most, driven person I’ve ever met. He’s going to be a Hall-of-Famer. He’s one of the best defensemen, one of the best players to ever play the game.”

Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney chimed in with praise as well on Chara’s Bruins legacy in a Dec. 31 press conference

“Zdeno is forever a member of the Boston Bruins, and [he] will be enshrined in both the Hall of Fame and, in my humble opinion, in the rafters amongst the greatest to ever wear a Boston Bruins uniform,” Sweeney said. 

Sweeney’s 100-percent right. The only place No. 33 should go is up in the rafters of TD Garden with the name Chara right above it.

Though it’s weird not seeing Chara wear black and gold anymore, as Sweeney said, Big Zee will forever be a Boston Bruin.