BOSTON -- Normally, when a middle-aged athlete calls it quits, he steps to the podium for his retirement press conference and explains that he just can't play the way he's used to playing, and that it's simply time to walk away.
As is generally the case, Zdeno Chara is the exception. Because Zdeno Chara is not that guy.
The 45-year-old Chara officially put an end to his legendary, Hall of Fame career on Tuesday, signing a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Boston Bruins. Yet when explaining his decision to walk away from the game he's played since his days as a boy in Czechoslovakia, Chara said that his decision was not based on an inability to play the sport at its highest level.
"My decision was based on family. Listen, you tell me I cannot do something, I'll make sure I'll do it," the notoriously hard-working Chara insisted. "Doesn't matter the age. It's not that. It's time to be home. There's a time for everything. I had my share of battles and all these things. It's time to be home with my family."
While Chara and the Bruins parted ways in 2020, the defenseman continued his career -- first with Washington, then with the New York Islanders last year. With his family remaining in Boston during that time, and with the first season coming in those uncertain pandemic days, the pull to return home was too strong for Chara to ignore any longer.
"The biological age of your body is always gonna be there. You can't deny it," Chara said. "I knew where I was. But that was not the main reason. I think the main reason was just to be home with my family. I mean, the past two years, I've been away constantly, and it was weighing on me way too much. And I knew that first of all, it was the right time to step away. And having three kids at home and being involved and not miss their birthdays, special occasions, it just -- I knew that was the right decision and I'm completely happy with it."
While nobody is calling Chara's bluff, his body of work is likely enough to believe him. He averaged 18:44 of ice time last year in his age 44 season. He missed just one game the previous year, and he missed just 10 games last year, indicating there's still somehow something left in the thank for the man who played more games than any defenseman in NHL history.
Despite believing there's still something left to give the game, Chara is at peace with his place.
"I have no regrets. I would not change a thing," Chara said. "We are in a business where everything's judged by winning, but I had my shares of the highs and the lows. And that's okay. That's part of it. And, you know, you learn from it and you grow as a player and you grow as a person. So I am completely at peace with it, and I'm happy with it."
Chara made sure to give special attention to his wife, Tatiana, for running the family with three children while he was busy with his day job.
"I would like to thank my family: My wife Tatiana, my daughter Elliz, my sons, Ben and Zack, for their unconditional love and support," Chara said. "Especially my wife Tatiana. I can't thank her enough for raising our three beautiful children. It's a 24/7 job, and it's not easy when your husband is away playing games, at practices or doing summer workouts, to drive kids to different activities, making sure everything for school is done, or cooking your amazing meals. She's an amazing woman. She's the reason I could play this game for so long. I love you, and I love you all."
While Chara's duty on the ice for the bulk of his career involved him shutting down the most skilled offensive players in the world, he explained that the biggest challenged he faced on a nightly basis was looking in the mirror.
"You had challenges every night against the best players in the world, but I think the biggest challenge you face is against yourself," Chara said. "I mean, you have to look at yourself every night before you step on the ice and make sure you're ready. I mean, that's the challenge you face every day. And you better be ready, because if you're not, then you're not giving your best and not giving 100 percent to the team, and it's not fair if you don't.
"So, as much as you compete against others, I think the biggest challenge and the biggest task is competing against yourself and being at your best."
As a 14-year captain of the Bruins during a run when they became a perennial Stanley Cup contender, Chara certainly answered that challenge time and again in Boston.
Chara earned the captaincy in 2006, immediately upon arrival via free agency, and he wore the C on his chest through 2020. That 14-year run as captain ties Chara with Dit Clapper for the second-longest tenure as captain in Bruins history, one fewer than Ray Bourque. Still the tallest player in NHL history at 6-foot-9, Chara provided a dependable, imposing presence on the Bruins' blue line, while still providing offense as needed. He won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman in 2009 and of course won the Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011.
Chara ranks sixth on the all-time games played list in Bruins history at 1,023. He also ranks fourth in franchise history with 150 playoff games.
In his career with the Islanders (two stints), Senators, Bruins, and Capitals, Chara played in 1,680 regular-season games and an even 200 playoff games.
Though Chara's hockey career is ending, his life in Boston will continue.
"My family and I are proud to call Boston our home," Chara said. "It's the team and city that we hold close to our heart."
Sooner than later, a "33" banner hanging in the rafters will provide that relationship the permanence that it rightfully deserves.
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