On Monday, 45-year-old Zdeno Chara called it a career after 24 seasons in the National Hockey League. Drafted by the New York Islanders in the third round of the 1996 NHL Draft, Chara broke into the NHL with New York in 1997, playing his first four season on the island before being dealt to the Ottawa Senators.
After 19 years away from the island, 11 years with the Boston Bruins, winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, Chara returned to Long Island for the 2021-22 season. He was a mentor to Noah Dobson, who broke out under his tutelage and served as a leader to everyone in the locker room.
He is undoubtedly a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
After signing a one-day deal with the Boston Bruins, Chara spoke, which NHL Network broadcasted.
Here’s what he had to say about his time with the New York Islanders:
“I was very fortunate and happy to be drafted by the Islanders in 1996. So I would like to thank Mike Milbury for taking a chance on me as well as Chris Pryor and Brad McCrimmon for helping me with my development,” Chara said. “I want to also thank my first NHL coach Rick Bowness, for giving me a chance on November 19, 1997, to step for the first time on the NHL ice.”
“The Islanders were also part of my last career game. I would like to take this moment to thank Mr. Lou Lamoriello and his staff, and Coach Barry Trotz with his team for everything during my time on Long Island last year.”
Following the last day of development camp, I chatted with Grant Hutton and Robin Salo, two players who got to call Chara a teammate during the 2021-22 season.
“I think the best way to describe him is a true professional,” Hutton said. “I mean, he came to the rink with a positive mindset every day regardless of the situation the team was in…Just being able to observe his habits, both on and off the ice, to see these guys that are able to play a long time, that’s not just out of sheer luck.”
“It’s out of their work ethic and their commitment to taking care of their bodies and being good leaders, and I think he exemplified exactly what a true professional is like, and I wish him all the best in retirement.”
Robin Salo shared his thoughts on Big Z as well.
“I mean, just a pretty big presence in the locker room, just like big leadership,” Salo said. “The time I was up you could see he had a big influence on the team. Just his work ethic…he’s that age, and he still comes…first guy in the rink, and he does a lot of extra [things]. I think that’s one of the things why he played such a long career and I mean, very big leader and just helping the group to win games.”
“He has that winning mentality.”
The story below was written following the last regular season game of the 2021-22 campaign, Zdeno Chara’s possible last game in the NHL. On Tuesday, Sept. 20, Zdeno Chara announced his retirement. Re-live his last game, his last moments in this piece:
The New York Islanders ended their regular season with a 6-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night. But the game was not the main story. Zdeno Chara was.
In what is expected to be Zdeno Chara’s last game in his illustrious 24-year NHL career, the fan base throughout the contest cheered for him to shoot every time he had the puck on his stick in the offensive zone.
With less than a minute to play in the third period, Chara shot the puck and beat Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy. The crowd erupted.
— Isles on MSG+ (@IslesMSGN) April 30, 2022
The chanting continued for Zdeno Chara throughout a New York Islanders timeout and as the seconds wained off the clock in the third period.
Chara chants from the UBS faithful: pic.twitter.com/m1YJ9B3A7e
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) April 30, 2022
After the final horn sounded, the Islanders went and hugged their netminder Ilya Sorokin but each player hugged Chara in what was a special moment. That special moment continued when the Tampa Bay Lightning team came over, and one by one shook his hand.
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) April 30, 2022
Following the game, New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz walked into his postgame press conference and immediately said that Zdeno Chara had not announced his retirement, but what he saw in the final moments of the game and what followed he had never seen before.
“I’m gonna just say I have not seen that ever in 20 years of the game,” Trotz said. “He has not said anything about retiring, either to us or anybody else. But the other team after the game coming over and saying, you know, ‘can we shake his hand?’, that just tells me that, you know, how much respect this player has garnered through the league, through the players who played against him, players who have interacted with him.”
“All that says volumes about what he’s accomplished as a human being in this game. If he continues to play, which he can, we’ll be better for it. And if he decides that he’s going to spend time with his family, he’s left the game in a great spot.”
For Zdeno Chara, the moment was unexpected but something he will never forget.
“It was just completely unexpected and it was just amazing feeling obviously, you know to have that support from the fans and you know, they were giving us all season long. I can’t really describe it. It was just, you know, it was, I was getting chills. It was just a spectacular moment and I will cherish that for the rest of my life.”
Chara has not made a final decision about his career.
“I want to go home. I want to go home to my family,” Chara said. “I’ve got to take some time off and you know, once I’m gonna, you know, make decisions, then I’ll make it, but, you know, I think that right now I just want to be home and be with my family and just enjoy kind of being home and being a dad and yeah, so I haven’t made a firm final decision.”
As for what the night was like for Chara, it was overwhelming but also truly special.
“I’m so happy it’s just overwhelming,” Chara said. “You know, like I said, I never wanted to make anything about me. You know, I always thought that, you know, this is a team game and you know, it’s always about the team and when, you know, it starts getting to the point where, you know, where you’re getting that, you know, crowd involved and fans are really showing their appreciation, you know, players are getting pucks. It’s just, you know, it’s a little bit uncomfortable, to be honest with you, but at the same time, you know, I have been very, very blessed and grateful and honored.”
Noah Dobson, who has been mentored by Zdeno Chara the entire season, was present during his media availability and although the attention was on Chara, Dobson was asked one question and his response embodied what his time with Chara meant.
“He’s been a great mentor on and off the ice and he’s been a great guy just to play alongside,” Dobson said. “I think, at the start, we weren’t very comfortable with each other but once we got that comfort level, we did a pretty good job together.”
“And just like I said, I’m very grateful to be able to say one day that I played alongside him for a season.”