Without fans in the stands, a stadium turns into just about any other building. There is no rise and swell of voices booing a bad call or cheering a game-winning score. So there will be no standing ovation Wednesday in Boston when one of the city’s favorites, Zdeno Chara returns as a member of the Washington Capitals.
And while the 43-year-old defenseman said he doesn’t expect to have any trouble finding his way to the visitor’s locker room rather than the home one he occupied as captain for so many years, his Boston homecoming might lack some of the recognition it would in a normal year.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a very familiar place and, obviously, the environment is something that I was very close with for many years,” Chara said. “But I think we all have to realize that once the puck is dropped you really have to focus on what’s going on inside the glass and just perform.”
That’s what he’s done for Washington since arriving in free agency. Coach Peter Laviolette knew all about what the 6-foot-9 defenseman brings to the ice. He credited Chara for much of the leadership that helped the Bruins be a team opposing coaches don’t look forward to facing.
He’s brought that leadership with him to the Capitals, as well as his steady on-ice ability. Chara has averaged 19:24 of ice time this season — the third-highest average on the team — while playing all 21 games.
Chara’s on pace to become the first player aged 43 or older to average at least 19 minutes of ice time since the 1997-98 season — the year the Slovakian made his NHL debut. He’s also chipped in six points, most recently with an assist last week against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I think from a role standpoint of what we were expecting, I think it’s been exactly what we were looking for,” Laviolette said. “His presence on the ice, his game on the ice, his presence on the team and in the locker room, there’s been no surprises. I don’t think that we tried to push it in a different direction or have it be something that it’s not. I would say almost as advertised.”
Chara doesn’t expect the emotions revolving around his return to Boston to boil over Wednesday. When he faced the Bruins at Capital One Arena earlier in the season, Chara felt fine — so fine, in fact, that he scored against his former team, firing a slapshot from the point on Feb. 1.
His return to Boston is meaningful in other ways, though, even without fans in the stands to applaud the Stanley Cup winner’s accomplishments in the city. When Chara signed with Washington, his family stayed behind in Boston.
And while he stays in touch daily with FaceTime or phone calls, seeing his family Monday night made the trip better than any standing ovation would.
“It was really nice to see them after long time,” Chara said, “and be a dad for one day again.”
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