By: Mike Cratty | Follow Me On Twitter @Mike_Cratty
This day was bound to come someday. But that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow the news of Zdeno Chara signing a one-year, $795,000 deal with the new division rival Washington Capitals. It sucks, a lot, but everything happens for a reason and clearly, Chara wants to keep his incredible career alive, even if it’s elsewhere.
To me, Zdeno Chara is arguably the greatest leader in the history of sports. A topic like this is very debatable, but he is absolutely up there on the list. I have definitely never seen an athlete and leader quite like him, at the very least. He has put on a masterclass of professionalism, charitability, competitiveness, shutdown defensive ability, and raw power, amongst other things. The list can go on.
Although he started his career in New York with the Islanders and in Ottawa with the Senators, it will surely be strange to see Chara in new colors. He was drafted in 1996 and is still contributing at 43-years-old, 44 on March 18th, at the NHL level. That is hilariously impressive. 15 days before his 44th birthday, on March 3, 2021, he’ll play the Bruins for the first time in a long, long time. That’ll be quite the spectacle.
Thanks to a tweet from a good friend of mine, I was reminded that the two longest-tenured Boston/New England athletes of mine and his lifetimes, Zdeno Chara and Tom Brady are now elsewhere. What the hell? That hit me like a truck when I first realized that thanks to his tweet. My two favorite teams. A Bruins legend, and a Patriots legend playing elsewhere. Damn.
Chara’s impact was very noticeable from the start of his career with the Bruins in 2006. But it rose to another level in 2011. For a good chunk of my young life, right about until I turned 10-years-old, or something like that, baseball was my main sport. I loved and played hockey, but baseball was king for a while.
No moment in sports impacted me more than seeing the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011, and Chara was a vital contributor in that cup run, with “the German Hammer” Dennis Seidenberg on his right. A Tour De Force together, a true dynamic, destructive duo. To this day, no moment in sports has had as much of an impact on me as game seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. It was and still is totally incredible.
The 39-year drought was over. Chara was the last Bruin to touch the puck that season, and the first to touch and then lift the cup. When the clock hit zero, my living room erupted with noise and my Uncle Greg lifted me over his head, already with tears in his eyes shouting “We f—kin’ did it, Mikey! We f—kin’ did it!” I was overwhelmed with emotions, and I’ll never forget that moment.
Watching Mark Recchi receive his final Stanley Cup from the hands of Chara, after being held the highest it has ever been held, will never not be cool. The 2011 Bruins were a scrappy, driven team that got contributions all around in different ways and earned their championship.
Tim Thomas’s Conn Smythe performance was absolutely unparalleled. His wild goaltending style fostered a pretty unique, rambunctious form of dominance. Thank you to the 2011 Bruins, and specifically in this case Zdeno Chara for etching the memory of you screaming at the top of your lungs with the cup in excitement and relief in my brain forever.
Watching how he has carried himself has made Chara an inspiration to myself and countless others. He truly knows how to live life as a positive impact on those around him in more ways than one. Tons of smiles, laughs, cheers, and other utterances or sounds have occurred in reaction to something Chara has done. That’s kind of a weird sentence, but you know what I’m getting at.
Back in November of 2014, I met Chara for the first time in person. Through two family friends of ours my uncle and godfather, Bobby, got us down by the locker room. I met guys such as Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid, and Johnny Boychuk, amongst others, before I met Chara and Seidenberg.
Looking at how much taller than he was than me, while I was at 5-foot-1, 100 lbs. or something, was one of the most stupifying things I’ve ever experienced. He was noticeably busy after the game, so I didn’t ask him for a picture, as was Seidenberg who was on his way to a post-game workout. But they both said hi, so that was awesome for a teenage Mike.
Fast forward to March 16, 2019, my first game as a credentialed media member as a digital content intern at WEEI, I saw Chara in person again all those years later. I was much taller than in 2014 though, so I saw him at a different level than as a pipsqueek. Puberty helps. It was never not cool to see an iconic athlete like him in person, from the stands, down by the locker room, or in the locker room after a win against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
With a Norris Trophy, a Mark Messier Leadership Award, a Stanley Cup ring, and countless incredible moments and kind deeds off the ice, Chara has made a remarkable legacy for himself. A legacy that will be remembered by so many for so long, and talked about in stories to so many for years to come. A standup guy, a tremendous player, and a stout leader who I am going to miss in black and gold quite a bit.
A kid from Trenčín, Slovakia grew up to change lives all around him. When you can tell that someone is a legend long before their playing days are over, you better cherish them while they’re lacing the skates up. Because all good things come to an end. Oh man, here come the tears. Now for a big thank you, from me to Big Z.