Bruins

Current, former Bruins praise Zdeno Chara ahead of 1,500th NHL game

Current, former Bruins praise Zdeno Chara ahead of 1,500th NHL game

Zdeno Chara is set to reach a milestone when he takes the ice Tuesday night against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre. 

The B's captain will be skating in his 1,500th NHL game, something that's only been accomplished by five other defensemen in NHL history. And while some of his younger teammates such as Charlie McAvoy, 21, only have a few seasons under their belt, they understand what an accomplishment it is to reach the 1,500-game mark.

"What an unbelievable accomplishment," McAvoy said, according to BostonBruins.com's Eric Russo. "I couldn't be happier for him. I will make sure to give him a big hug tonight. What an accomplishment. You really can't overstate it. He puts himself into some special, special company."

B's assistant captain Patrice Bergeron, a teammate of Chara's since the 6-foot-9 defenseman signed with Boston in 2006, knows what the 42-year-old brings to the table. 

"The backbone of our defense for the last I don't know how many years," Bergeron said. "He's redefined the position by the way that he defends but also put up offense, his shot…he's well respected around the league, but even more so in this organization by the players and also the city, the fans, and everyone. True competitor and an amazing accomplishment."

While Bergeron stressed that Chara's leadership is something that sets him apart, former B's captain (1983-85) Terry O'Reilly echoed that when discussing the big man's career. 

"He's been probably one of the best captains in the history of the Boston Bruins," O'Reilly said, according to NHL.com's Dave Stubbs. "He's played any kind of hockey you want to play. He's been used since he arrived here to shut down the best offensive players in the NHL. He's taken it upon himself to see that none of his teammates are abused, but he does it with almost a Don Quixote attitude. He doesn't go after anybody. But if they come at him and hit him hard, he plays that kind of game."

Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, who captained the Bruins from 1988-2000, put Chara on a pedestal when discussing his astounding career. 

"I've always said your best players should be your best people," Bourque said. "Chara is a gift. In Boston we have him and [New England Patriots quarterback Tom] Brady, doing remarkable things in their 40s. The longevity and the success they've both had is incredible."

As Chara continues to age, he's been able to adjust his game. Another Bruins legend, Rick Middleton, is very surprised with Chara's adaptation to the fast-paced style that young forwards have brought to the NHL. 

"Today, when someone chips the puck in around Zee, he's got to turn and figure out the angle because he may not be as quick as that forward," Middleton said. "He's got to adjust his game to the speed. His instincts take over. It's been amazing to me that he's not been exposed that way. [Hall of Fame defenseman] Brad Park was the same. When he had bad knees and lost a lot of his speed, he adjusted by learning the angles better, maybe when to turn a little earlier or not go as deep in the zone. Zee has done that."

But while Chara has had to conform his game, Wayne Cashman thinks the big man can play past the 2019-20 season. 

"You hear stories about him being in the gym every day … he's conditioned to play the game and he's adjusted to the game," Cashman said. "He's playing slightly fewer minutes now, but I don't see any reason why he couldn't play two or three more years. You can see that he's very dedicated and he's adjusted [to new rules] extremely well. You can see how he positions himself on the ice."

Chara's gym routine is something that's kept him well-conditioned for years, and Johnny Bucyk emphasized that when discussing Chara's longevity. 

"Zdeno works out every day even when he's injured," Bucyk said "He'll battle for his teammates. If somebody goes after a player for no reason at all, he'll step right in. His biggest problem, if you want to call it that, is that he's so strong, he doesn't want to hurt anybody. He's very dedicated. I appreciate watching him. He's had a great career and it's not over yet."

While Chara's career isn't over yet, he'll have a huge decision to make following the end of the season -- retire, or continue playing into his age 43 season. 

The Black & Gold's captain isn't the only one reaching a milestone on Tuesday night. Former Bruins, and current Canadiens head coach Claude Julien will be coaching his 1,200th NHL game. In 10 seasons in Boston, he led the B's to the 2011 Stanley Cup championship and became the franchise's all-time leader in coaching victories with 419. 

There will be no shortage of history made Tuesday. The B's and Habs will faceoff at 7:30 p.m. ET. 

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Many questions remain about risk and health as NHL talks return to play

Many questions remain about risk and health as NHL talks return to play

While the NHL made big news last week with the unveiling of its plan to return to play with a 24-team tournament expected to get going this summer — barring any unforeseen COVID-19 setbacks — there is still plenty to be hashed out.

The NHLPA and NHL will need to come to agreement on other aspects of the league’s return-to-play plan and teams will need to begin skating, practicing and preparing to play in the postseason tournament that’s still months away.

The NHL is expected to make a formal announcement that the 31 NHL teams can begin Phase 2 with small practice groups at NHL facilities sometime over the next few weeks, and the word is that NHL training camp won’t begin prior to a July 10 start date. This means we could be seeing Stanley Cup playoff hockey in August and September before a Stanley Cup is awarded to the winner of the 2019-20 NHL season sometime in the fall.

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The real question, though, is how safe it’s going to be for players, referees, team and league personnel and anybody else essential that’s involved to help make these NHL games happen in designated hub cities once they are up and running.

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara acknowledged there is still plenty left to go when it comes to the issues of health and well-being while talking about a return to play with Bruins reporters last week.

“These are the questions that still need to be processed. After the approval of the format there are other steps that need to be gone over,” said Chara. “I’m sure this is one of those things that everybody needs to be aware of that the safety and health of players, staff, coaches and everybody working around [the games] needs to be taken care of. Those are the questions that will need to be asked and answered.”

Some NHL players like Leafs winger Mitch Marner already expressed concern about any NHL personnel with underlying health conditions like Montreal Canadiens forward Max Domi, who has Type 1 Diabetes. Clearly there are also some older NHL coaches like Claude Julien, Joel Quenneville and John Tortorella who could be more at risk if a COVID-19 outbreak were to happen during these playoffs, and that doesn’t even take into account older NHL assistant coaches as well.

“I’m all down for starting everything up [with the NHL season again]. Let’s rock. [But] what if someone gets sick and dies? It's awful to think about, but still," said Marner of Domi, his former London Knights teammate, a few weeks ago during a video chat with fans. "There's dudes like [Max] Domi who has diabetes. If he gets it, he's in [a predicament]."

TSN 690 radio host Tony Marinaro admitted on an NBC Sports Boston Zoom call with James Murphy and yours truly last week that it’s a “scary” scenario for the Canadiens given their situation with players and coaches. It wouldn’t shock anyone if there may even be some hesitant players who opt not to return to play this summer depending on their individual health situations and concern level.

“I just got off the phone [on-air] about an hour ago with Dr. Leighanne Parkes, who is an infectious disease specialist at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and I asked her about Max Domi. I asked her about Max Domi because as we know with this COVID-19 that it’s mostly the elderly that are losing their lives. But if there is somebody losing their life before the age of 80, then it’s someone with an underlying health condition. Max Domi is a Type-1 diabetic and that is scary and extremely dangerous.

“I asked her about the [21-page] document put out by the NHL for their health protocols [during the return to play] and she said it was a well thought out document. She said the NHL has covered most of the bases, if not all of them, and it was really well thought out. But at the end of the day, it’s going to come down to individual choice, Max Domi’s individual choice. But it really is scary and it really is dangerous for a player with a pre-existing condition.

Even though the protocol is there and the document is there and they take all the safety measures, do you want to take the risk? Would I? No. Would you? Probably not. But if there is one thing our experience has shown us, we’re not wired like these [NHL players]. These guys want to play. I can’t speak for Max Domi, but if I were a betting man I’d bet that he would play.

Domi himself admitted it was on his mind while talking it over on a conference call with reporters a few weeks ago amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent NHL work stoppage.

"Being a Type 1 diabetic, it's something that raises some concern. But you really don't know how everyone's going to be affected by this disease. Being a Type 1 doesn't change much. I would handle myself the same way as if I didn't have [diabetes]," said the 25-year-old Domi, who is third on the Canadiens with 17 goals and 44 points in 71 games this season. "Everyone is affected by this in their own way. A lot of people have been struggling.

“A lot of people have suffered loss. It's been a really tough time for everyone, and you have to be sensitive to that. You have to understand that this is very real. People have gotten sick from this. People have died from this. All you can really do is do your part, stay at home, stay safe and be respectful of any rules that were put in place.”

The good news is that most teams, and subsequently most players, will be eliminated from playoff contention within the first few weeks of a Stanley Cup playoff return-to-play. The attrition of playoff rounds will quickly lessen the amount of people, both quarantined and coming into contact with each other, present at the hub cities.

A few shortened playoff series at the start of the NHL tournament could make that an even more expeditious process that’s as safe as it can possibly for everybody involved. But at the end of the day it will be about some level of risk for each and every NHL player involved.

It all boils down to a very personal decision — and it shouldn't be all that surprising if not every player signs up to assume that COVID-19 risk once play does resume.

Who are the Top 10 NHL players from Massachusetts?

Who are the Top 10 NHL players from Massachusetts?

There’s a strong tradition of hockey in the state of Massachusetts, and not so surprisingly there is also no shortage of standout NHL players from this state.

A great deal of those talented players arrived in the years since Bobby Orr first came to town in Black and Gold and brought with him a hockey rink boom all over the Commonwealth, so there’s no coincidence to the timing of it all.

Another non-shocker: The greatest generation of Massachusetts hockey players continues to be the 1990’s when Jeremy Roenick, Keith Tkachuk and Tony Amonte along with Bill Guerin grew into dominant forces of talent at the NHL level. There may never such a concentration of star NHL players from Massachusetts all playing at the same time.

There were older pioneers and standouts, of course, like St. John’s Prep phenom Bobby Carpenter, one of the few high-level elite Massachusetts guys that laced up for the B's, and Acton-Boxborough’s Tom Barrasso on those Stanley Cup teams in Pittsburgh. Here’s a list of the top-10 all-time NHL players born in Massachusetts with apologies to Scott Young, Mike Milbury, Cory Schneider, Tom Poti, Tom Fitzgerald, Chris Nilan, Shawn McEachern and Jay Pandolfo for not quite making the cut.