Not long after he signed a five-year, $37.5-million deal with the Bruins in the summer of 2006, Zdeno Chara was named the organization’s 18th captain. After some on-the-job learning and adjustments with his approach, Chara has settled into the role and has done so with the help of a strong core of leadership around him.
But as Chara recently reflected, it has been nothing short of a learning process for the serious and intelligent blue-liner. His first season with the “C” on his jersey didn’t exactly go as planned, as the hulking 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenseman admittedly struggled with the weight of wearing that glorified letter on his chest.
“It is something you have to adjust to and the first year wasn’t easy,” he admitted. “I was the new guy, and being named the captain in your first year with a team isn’t always easy, but I learned a lot. Obviously we made some changes after that. We improved as a team.”
It wasn’t as if Chara didn’t understand the magnitude of the role of captain but rather that he allowed it to become too much of a burden, taking on responsibilities he didn’t have to. Chara is a self-proclaimed perfectionist and takes great pride in everything he does, but sometimes that can hurt him and his game.
While he improved over the last two seasons, he admits he still struggles with the weight of being captain at times, and pointed to last spring in the Bruins’ second-round playoff series with the Hurricanes. Chara had a horrible Game 3, making what he later said were “costly” miscues that led to Carolina goals and helped the Hurricanes take a 2-1 lead in the series. The only problem was that Chara didn’t say that after Game 3, choosing to not face the media and explain what happened.
The Bruins went on to lose Game 4 and go down 3-1 in the series, but Chara came out and faced the music this time, explaining his previous postgame absence as a case of his trying to harness his emotions rather then explode and serve as a detriment to his team and himself.
“I’m a very serious guy and sometimes I take things too personal. I’m a very emotional guy and I don’t like to lose,” he said. “But some of us take it better than others, and we’re going to face those things throughout the season, so we need to know how to handle them. Sometimes I need to calm down rather than say things I’m going to regret.”
But while he does now believe it his duty as captain to address the media after every game he also understands he can’t blame himself for everything and can count on his teammates to hold themselves accountable as well.
“You have to sometimes lay back and let things settle on their own and then other times you need to step in and help them sort it out,” he said. “There’s a time for things to be said and done and I’ve learned when those times are but I’m ready to be there for my team whenever they need me.”
Part of this comfort level he has now as captain is because of the surrounding cast of leadership GM Peter Chiarelli has put in place, not only with proven veteran leaders but also with the way Chiarelli and his staff put an emphasis on character and leadership qualities with the young players they draft and bring in. As former Red Wings captain, three-time Stanley Cup champion and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman said recently, the captain is important but it’s just as important to have a group of leaders.
”The more I went along in my career, wearing the “C” wasn’t as important as having a group of guys who were strong, positive leaders with me,” Yzerman told the Santa Barbara News-Press recently.
Chara has grown to learn that over the last three seasons, and he is grateful to have such leaders as Mark Recchi and Marc Savard or even young emerging leaders like Patrice Bergeron and Mark Stuart.
“Now I’m comfortable with the fact that it’s not always one man’s decision, it’s a small group of leaders that chips in and leads together,” Chara said. “I think I carried a bit too much on my shoulders that first year and tried to do too much at times, then my game suffered a bit, but I learned that it’s OK to share that responsibility and it’s a team concept.
“[Recchi] has been in the league for so long, he has won championships, so obviously he is a great leader and then you have Savard who has been in the league for many years, so yes they can contribute and they do,” he added. “Even some of the young guys, they’ve learned and they show leadership qualities as well and are stepping up in those roles. Guys like Patrice, Marco [Sturm], Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart, there’s a good mix. It’s always good to have everyone say something when the time is right and it’s refreshing to hear things from different guys instead of the same guy every night.”
So as he enters his fourth season as captain of the Bruins, Chara is not only still honored to have that title but he is at ease with it and confident he can do the job.
“I take it as a big honor to be wearing the “C” for such a team like the Bruins, with the tradition they have and those that have worn it before me,” Chara said. “An original six franchise, so many great players that have come before me, so it is really just an honor for me to follow in their footsteps. I’ve learned a lot about the role and now I have a great group around me.”
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