When 43-year-old Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara found himself under siege with questions on his diminished role with the Bruins in a media zoom call Monday afternoon. His student on and off the ice for the last three seasons, Bruins budding star defenseman Charlie McAvoy, got his back just like Chara has done his since McAvoy burst onto the scene in the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs as a 19-year-old out of Boston University.
The 14th overall pick from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft came into the league with lofty expectations and after notching three assists in his first six games in the NHL and the playoffs, those expectations went through the moon. Over the last three seasons, Zdeno Chara has helped McAvoy develop into a borderline superstar defenseman and on Monday McAvoy reminded those wondering how much value Chara still has to the team that he’s got plenty.
“Something that I have not taken for granted at all,” the 22-year-old McAvoy replied when asked what it’s meant to have Chara as a mentor on and off the ice.
McAvoy has been a two-way force on the Bruins blue line during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a goal and three assists in nine games. He had another solid regular season with five goals and 27 assists in 67 games prior to the NHL pause on March 12 that ended the Bruins’ regular season at 70 games. He expressed his gratitude for Chara’s important and continuing role in his development.
“I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to learn under this guy,” McAvoy continued smiling, with a lean of his head towards Chara. “He’s as good as anyone in the entire league to learn under. I’ve learned so many lessons on the ice and off the ice and like I said, it’s something that I don’t take for granted. I’m extremely blessed and fortunate to learn under this guy and to have him as a friend and a teammate.”
Before another question was asked, Chara turned to McAvoy and tanked him. The affable McAvoy smiled and blew the big guy a kiss of gratitude and at that moment, it was clear how valuable the 2009 Norris Trophy winner still is.
🎥 @CMcAvoy44 on his time playing alongside captain Zdeno Chara: “I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to learn under this guy. He’s as good as anyone in the entire league to learn under.” pic.twitter.com/9BHvyCIfsu
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) August 24, 2020
Zdeno Chara, who is still one of the best defensive defensemen in the league, has seen his minutes decrease both on the powerplay and at even strength as the game has gone faster. In the Bruins 3-2 Game 1 win Sunday night Chara played 18:21 of even-strength play and 3:36 on the penalty kill for a combined 21:47 on ice. He didn’t register a minute on the powerplay and finished at a minus 1. He has one assist in nine playoff games after registering five goals and nine assists in 68 regular season games.
More than once, Chara was asked directly how he feels about his decreased minutes and for all intents and purposes, his new role as a strict shutdown defenseman.
“I think my focus has been to always play well defensively and do my best for the team,” Chara replied. “Whether it’s offensive zone faceoff or defensive zone faceoffs, I can’t tell you that my role is going to change but I’ll always do my best regardless of where I’m playing at.”
The 43-year-old Chara was asked whether the unique and ‘strange’ circumstances of the pandemic and playing for another Stanley Cup this late in his career has caused him to reflect a bit more on where he is in his career.
“It is different but the goals and the motivation is the same,” Chara said. “I still have a lot of passion for the game and love to compete and go out there and do my best. I just try to enjoy it and embrace the opportunity.”
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has marveled at the mentorship between McAvoy and Zdeno Chara and grateful he has embraced whatever opportunity he gets at this point in his career.
“Zee is a good tutor, he’s a student of the game, you know a true professional, so the off-ice part is amazing for the young guys to see why guys last in this league,” Cassidy said Monday. “You know I put other guys on our team in that category as well, how they train after games, in-between days like today, to get better. No days off so to speak for those guys. And then on the ice, you’re seeing a bit of the passing of the torch now right, like Charlie is playing more minutes, playing in all situations, things that Zee did years ago in his prime, so that’s an interesting dynamic as well, how they help each other, and there’s really no competition in that regard, so maybe like a big brother little brother kind of thing.
We saw it a little bit with [Brandon] Carlo but not for an extended period of time. So Zee enjoys doing it. I think it’s been a good situation for us to give him young partners because there’s no better teacher than an on-ice teacher. You know we can show them video, we can talk to them, you know we all played the game years and years ago, but these guys are living in the moment, so that’s what makes the best teacher and I think it’s worked out really well for both guys.”