Zdeno Chara flashes a smile, exhibiting possible human-like qualities, accepting the Norris in 2009 (Ethan Miller/Getty Images for NHL)

Making Peace with the Big Man

This past season I had to do some serious NHL soul searching. It was a difficult and emotional process, but I had to come to terms with the fact that I no longer possess a violent hatred for Zdeno Chara. I can’t believe I am admitting this publicly. I have been spewing vitriol the Bruins captain’s way for many years but I started to soften my opinion on the giant after his appearance at the All Star Game. Was it seeing him out of his natural habitat or realizing his shot is faster than a car on the autobahn? I don’t know. But something changed in my coal filled heart.

In my mind he was he was an evil man, an assassin on skates ready to mow down smaller men in his path. He was a goon and nothing more. But at some point I started to have feelings for him bordering on affectionate. Strangely enough some of those feelings emerged after his hit on Max Pacioretty. I actually found myself frequently coming to Chara’s defense in the wake of the affair. There was nothing pleasant about that incident. It was one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen right up there with Brooks Orpik breaking Erik Cole’s neck. (A girl never forgets). But in my gut I felt Chara meant no intentional harm. Checking him into the boards? Yes. Breaking his neck and/or decapitation? Not really his style. I couldn’t stand by and watch the vilification.*

I started paying more attention to the Big Z. I used the Google to learn more of what he was about. Turns out he is an ambassador to a charity called Right to Play whose mission is “to improve the lives of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace.” Oh my God. This meant that Zdeno Chara possibly had a soul! I kept digging and finding not stats but rather things that made the mighty man HUMAN. How could it be?

My will was getting weaker. 6’9, 255lb Chara was wearing me down. Somehow his size made him sort of endearing. In my head I decided that he wasn’t completely evil. He was just going to take other hockey players and name them George and hug them and pet them and squeeze them. But when he did he would talk to them in one of the seven languages he speaks.

Of course this did not mean he would hang up his ferocity on the ice or in other situations when it was warranted. A coworker and I decided that in the spirit of Terry Tate: Office Linebacker, Zdeno Chara could become our Office Enforcer. Someone didn’t give us complete specifications? Call Zdeno Chara: Office Enforcer. Someone talking on the speakerphone with the door open? Call Zdeno Chara: Office Enforcer. Zdeno and I were slowly becoming frenemies.

I knew it was over when I caught myself secretly rooting for him through the Stanley Cup finals. As I saw him hoist the cup over his head this summer I felt sort of happy for the big man. I almost forgot about the number of times I had vehemently booed at him from my seat in the RBC Center. I still don’t quite understand this change in me. I am not necessarily declaring my fandom, but I am no longer a “hater.” Now that I have made peace with the sizeable Slovak I have more time to focus on more productive uses of my time, like hating Chris Pronger.

*The author freely admits this is a double-standard. But when it comes to Erik Cole, that’s how she rolls.

Have an “enemy” player that won you over? Tell us about it in the comments!

 

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Tags: 2011 NHL All-Star Game Boston Bruins Brooks Orpik Chris Pronger Erik Cole Goons Max Pacioretty Montreal Canadiens Terry Tate Office Linebacker Zdeno Chara

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