One word immediately comes to mind when Bruce Cassidy describes coaching Zdeno Chara with the Boston Bruins.
“The word would be grateful,” Cassidy told reporters Monday during a video conference. “Grateful to have his leadership, grateful to have his abilities on the ice, grateful to have a guy I can talk to about hockey and off-ice situations, how to best deal with what’s going on with the group.
“So that’s the word for me being around Zee. I’m grateful to have his respect — I think it’s a mutual respect — and I think it’s worked well for both of us.”
Chara, 43, has spent the last 14 seasons as the Bruins’ captain. He’s been to the Stanley Cup Final three times, hoisting hockey’s ultimate prize in 2011, and has earned the respect of teammates and opponents alike.
So, it’s unsurprising to see Cassidy, now in his fourth season as Boston’s head coach, lean on the veteran defenseman as the Bruins look to make another deep playoff run inside the Toronto bubble amid the coronavirus pandemic.
And few situations highlight Chara’s leadership like his tutelage of Boston’s young defensemen, most notably Charlie McAvoy.
“Zee is a good tutor. He’s a student of the game, you know, a true professional. So the off-ice part is amazing for the young guys to see why guys last in this league,” Cassidy said Monday. “You know, I put other guys on our team in that category, as well, how they train after games, in-between day like today, to get better. No days off, so to speak, for those guys. And then on the ice, you’re seeing a bit of the passing of the torch now, right. Like, Charlie is playing more minutes, playing in all situations — things that Zee did years ago in his prime — so that’s an interesting dynamic, as well, how they help each other, and there’s really no competition in that regard. So maybe like a big brother, little brother kind of thing.
“We saw it a little bit with (Brandon) Carlo, but not for an extended period of time. So Zee enjoys doing it. I think it’s been a good situation for us to give him young partners because there’s no better teacher than an on-ice teacher. You know, we can show them video, we can talk to them, you know we all played the game years and years ago, but these guys are living in the moment. So that’s what makes the best teacher, and I think it’s worked out really well for both guys.”
The Bruins, who owned the NHL’s best record during the regular season, on Sunday night took Game 1 of their second-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The teams will square off again Tuesday night in Game 2, with Chara remaining a vital part of Boston’s defense, which is tasked with slowing a high-powered Tampa Bay offense.