Zdeno Chara Helped Create Winning Culture During 14 Seasons With Bruins

Chara was a difference-maker while in Boston


December 14, 2022

Zdeno Chara had one thing in mind when he signed with the Boston Bruins in 2006.

Creating a winning culture.

Chara came in as the new Bruins captain and was ready to make Boston a desirable place to play, a winning team and a team opponents feared.

“I am not afraid of a challenge. I am willing to lead by my example with hard work, dedication, discipline, and drive,” Chara told reporters during his introductory press conference, per a transcript provided by the NHL. “I want to put this team on the winning track. Once we do that, I want to contend for a Cup and hopefully be champions.”

He certainly did that, though it didn’t happen overnight.

In Chara’s first season with the B’s, they finished 35-41-6 and missed the playoffs. They reached the playoffs the next three years but were knocked out in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal in 2007-08 before getting eliminated in the Eastern Conference semifinal the next two years.

Then came the 2010-11 season.

“He’s the ultimate measuring stick for the Boston Bruins, and why he’s pushed so many guys around him to greatness as well.”

Ex-Bruins defenseman Torey Krug in 2020 on what made Zdeno Chara the ultimate Bruin

After finishing 46-25-11 the Bruins found themselves back in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth straight year. They fell in a 2-0 hole in the first round against the Montreal Canadiens, but bounced back to win the series in Game 7 thanks to a Nathan Horton overtime goal before sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 2 just a year after the Bruins surrendered a 3-0 series lead and allowed Philly to me back to win the series.

The Eastern Conference Finals featured a seven-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which the Bruins won to punch their ticket to their first Stanley Cup Final in 21 years where the met the Vancouver Canucks.

Many thought the speedy Canucks would wreak havoc on the Bruins defensemen despite the blue line featuring the size and strength of Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid. But Vancouver was a very, very fast team. Tim Thomas had to stop several breakaways, so Chara and company readjusted and prevented the Canucks from getting to the net.

Taking away their passing lanes and positioning their sticks worked, and the Bruins ended up winning the Stanley Cup in enemy territory in Game 7. The celebration gave fans one of the most iconic photos of Chara of all time when he raised Lord Stanley over his head for the first — and only — time in his career.

Chara and the Bruins would go back to the Cup Final two more times — 2013 and 2019 — and lose both to the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, respectively. Even though Boston lost in Game 7 in 2019, no one will forget the way Chara — quite literally — put his body on the line when he broke his jaw in Game 4 and didn’t miss the following games in the series.

He’d go on to sign with the Washington Capitals for the 2020-21 season, putting an end to his 14-year career in Boston. Chara was more than just the captain, he was a mentor and someone who led by example and pushed those around him to be better.

Those who skated with Chara at any point during his time with the Bruins knew just how important he was to the Black and Gold. Chara never had a “me first” mentality, but rather a “team first” one, that really stuck with his current and former teammates.

“He’s the ultimate measuring stick for the Boston Bruins, and why he’s pushed so many guys around him to greatness as well,” Blues defenseman Torey Krug told NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin in 2020 after Chara signed with the Capitals. “People are always trying to outwork Zdeno, and it doesn’t happen. When people are trying to, that means they’re reaching their potential, and that’s what forces greatness on other people.”

“He gave the Bruins the identity that they’ve been playing with for the last 14 years he was there.”

Former Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg on Zdeno Chara giving Boston an identity

Trying to replace Chara, both in terms on size, leadership and physicality, was no easy task. After all, he came to Boston with the idea of giving the team an identity. Despite signing elsewhere ahead of the 2020-21 season, his mission was accomplished in Black and Gold.

“He gave the Bruins the identity that they’ve been playing with for the last 14 years he was there,” Seidenberg told Benjamin in 2020. “And he was part of that culture change that he brought with him when (former general manager Peter) Chiarelli signed him to that first contract with the Bruins and ever since I think they didn’t look back.”

After being away from his family — who remained in Boston — for his final two seasons, Chara signed a one-day contract with the Bruins in order to retire with the organization he brought so much to.

Chara took a chance when he signed with the Bruins and harped on creating that culture — something he mentioned during his retirement press conference at TD Garden.

“Because without that, you cannot win. You need a culture,” Chara said Sept 20 with many of his former Bruins teammates in attendance. “You don’t win without it. It wasn’t just me. It was team effort. I would never have done it without Patrice (Bergeron) or without Brad (Marchand) following Patrice’s lead. We set goals. It was hard in the beginning. Not everyone wanted to change, but it was necessary.”

He also made sure to note that it wasn’t just a change he wanted, but one the entire team bought into while he was with the Bruins.

“If you say what it means to me, I will correct you to it means to us. I mean, we won it together. It’s not me because I was the captain. We did it together we had such a committed group,” Chara said. “Like I said, we all bought into what we did. We made commitments to each other and to the team and organization. So to finally accomplish it and winning Stanley Cup, it was such a relief and it’s such a happy moment for everybody because we did it together.”

All of his work never went unnoticed, even what he did off the ice.

“What he wanted to build and represent every day being a captain, being a leader. His work ethic, his attention to detail, not even just on the ice but off the ice,” Marchand said after Chara’s retirement press conference at TD Garden. “He’s always trying to improve himself and get better. He took a real estate course while he was out for a month with an injury. He would learn how to speak multiple languages on the flights. He reads like a book a day. He’s an incredible human. Hockey is not just where he tries to better. He tries to get better in every aspect of his life. The way he switched up his nutrition and tried to get healthier. He has that ability to push himself everywhere in life and there is a reason why he played for as long as he did. He’s so driven and it really is incredible.”

What the future holds for the retired Chara remains unclear, but Bruins president Cam Neely made it clear it’s only a matter of time before No. 33 is retired to the TD Garden rafters. Chara also dropped the puck ahead of the Bruins-Minnesota Wild game with his kids alongside him.

Chara frequently is seen at Bruins games and who knows, maybe one day we’ll see him in some sort of operations role with the team. After all, it’s clear the culture and the impact still resonates with the current roster and he only would be able to add to that if he were part of the team again.

Thumbnail photo via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports Images
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