By Carrie Salls | Find me on Twitter @nittgrl73
With the recent announcement that Pittsburgh Penguin Matt Cullen has retired, 42-year-old Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara became the oldest active player in the National Hockey League. Chara will be 43 by the time his one-year contract is up following the 2019-2020 season, but Bruins fans know Chara is far from the typical middle-aged man. A lot has changed, in the world and in professional hockey, during his lifetime.
When Chara was born on March 18, 1977, the Berlin Wall was still standing. In fact, what we know as Germany today was still divided into two separate countries, East Germany and West Germany. His place of birth is listed as Trenčín, Czechoslovakia. Chara’s native country was not split into Slovakia, the country he now calls home, and the Czech Republic until just a few months before his 16th birthday.
His background alone has earned Chara, who is also the tallest player in the NHL at 6’9″, a place in the National Hockey League record books. According to Wikipedia, he was just the second European captain to win the Stanley Cup, achieving that honor when the Bruins won it all in 2011, and the first Cup champion to be born in and hone his hockey skills in a country within the Iron Curtain.
Off the ice, Zdeno Chara is well-educated and has a wide array of interests. He speaks seven languages, including his native Slovak, has earned a financial planning diploma, is licensed to sell real estate in Massachusetts and attended a course offered by Harvard Business School in 2018 entitled “The Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports.”
Chara’s motivational and insightful Instagram posts have made him a social media favorite among fans. During the hockey season especially, Chara gives followers a glimpse into his family life and his training regiment and frequently tells stories of his experiences and lessons learned.
The captain’s intense training sessions and plant-based diet, similar to the one followed by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, are certainly two keys to his impressive longevity. Players of Chara’s size are becoming more and more rare as the NHL tide has turned toward smaller, faster, more-skilled players and away from the proverbial “goon” and power forward-types that were in ample supply earlier in his NHL career.
Of course, Chara recognizes that playing the game of hockey for as long as he has at the top professional level is not an easy feat. He acknowledged that fact with a rather tongue-in-cheek Instagram post soon after the news broke that he was now the oldest active player.
According to his player bio on bostonbruins.com, Chara was drafted by the New York Islanders with the 56th overall pick in the third round of the 1996 NHL Draft. He was later traded to the Ottawa Senators. He was signed as a free agent by the Bruins in 2006 and has served as the team’s captain ever since. Before breaking into the NHL, Chara played North American hockey with Prince George’s Western Hockey League team and with an Islanders American Hockey League affiliate in Kentucky.
Chara was awarded the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman in 2009. He has set plus/minus and hardest shot records along the way in his storied career and was named a first-team all star three times.
Even with all of the accolades, records and firsts Chara has racked up, he will likely always be best-remembered by Bruins teammates, coaches and fans for his leadership. This quality was on display throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Fans will long remember Chara changing into his full uniform after missing the clinching game four of the Eastern Conference Finals with an injury to come out to participate in the handshake line and celebrate the Cup Finals berth with his teammates.
As special a show of leadership and sportsmanship that gesture was, it was outdone when Chara came to sit on the bench, reportedly against the advice of the team’s medical staff, after suffering a broken jaw during the fourth game of the Stanley Cup Finals. He later said he came out with no intention of playing, but as a show of support for his teammates. Incredibly, Chara did not miss a start in the series, wired jaw and all.
Chara is likely coming into one of, if not his final, season as a player in the National Hockey League. When he does hang up his skates for the final time, he will be closing the book on an amazing career that may well result in his number 33 being hoisted to the rafters.