— Sports

Milestones a credit to Zdeno Chara’s disciplined regimen

Zdeno Chara left the Boston Bruins when they couldn’t guarantee him a full-time gig at age 43 and joined the Washington Capitals.

Chara has since turned 44 and shown he can still work.

In the Capitals’ 6-3 win Saturday over the New York Islanders, he became the 13th player in league history to skate in 1,600 regular-season games. Less than a week, after 41-year-old Patrick Marleau broke Gordie Howe’s career games, played record, Chara reached a lofty milestone that those who know him credit to a legendary workout regimen that has kept him on the ice this long and evolved throughout his career.

“I was always very disciplined and driven, and I had a lot of passion for training and diet and staying on course,” Chara said last week. “The process to get to those milestones, it takes time, it takes years, days away from families, and I kind of always enjoy that whole process, reaching those goals.”

Chara has already accomplished many goals, winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in 2009 and lifting the Stanley Cup as Boston’s captain in 2011. The 6-foot-9 Slovak also led the Bruins to the final in 2013 and 2019, proving wrong the youth coaches back home who cut him and the teams that passed on him in the 1996 draft before the New York Islanders selected him in the third round.

The Islander traded him after 231 games, and the Ottawa Senators lost him to Boston in free agency in 2006. Chara grew into a titan of the sport with the “C” on his chest and a reputation as a gym rat.

Longtime Bruins coach Claude Julien recalls plenty of nights when Chara would play 25 minutes and still work out when he was ready to leave the rink. “He’s like a machine,” Julien said.

Skating coach Adam Nicholas said Chara also shows up an hour or more before an on-ice workout to prepare. One of the first things Chara said to Nicholas when they began working together half a decade ago was: “I’m just an average guy looking for success.”

“Guys were joking around that it’s almost like he’s trying to touch every piece of equipment in the gym every time,” said Patrice Bergeron, who played alongside Chara for 14 seasons with Boston. “He’s just in there and working at all times and doing extra.” The work has changed. Chara, at 20, breaking into the pros with the American Hockey League’s Kentucky Thoroughblades, needed to build strength. At 35 or 40, Chara shifted gears when the rest of the league was getting faster and should’ve been able to skate circles around him.

They didn’t.

“As his career moved into the later stages, he was smart enough to adapt his training to what he needed to do to continue to be effective,” Julien said. “He was always big, strong, and tough to play against. As he got older, he changed his training into maybe working more on quick feet and that kind of stuff.”

Chara has told Nicholas of his skating, “I need to put this mansion in a one-bedroom apartment.” Nicholas praised Chara for his love of self-improvement and said, “He changed completely from basically trying to outpower everybody to now he’s as quick or quicker than others.”

To Chara’s teammates, it didn’t matter what he was working on as much as how committed he was to doing it. Ralph Krueger, who coached Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, called Chara‘s off-ice package an example. “He’s still got that drive and that competitiveness, and he wants to get better, so he’s always working out and working on his game,” Bergeron said. “It’s more that he’s always in there doing something.”

The Bruins let Chara and Torey Krug depart in free agency to clear the way for younger players on defense, but the Capitals got precisely what they were hoping for by signing him. Chara isn’t a top-pairing force like he once was, but he averages 18 minutes a game for a Cup contender. “He just adds so much,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “He understands game situations. He understands where to put the puck, defend in front of our net, and stop the cycle. He does all the little things you want (from) a veteran player.”

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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