Ray Bourque and Zdeno Chara are both Boston Bruins legends. Bourque had one of the most accurate shots in National Hockey League history and wore the captain’s C for much of his time in Boston. Chara currently holds the record for the hardest shot at the NHL skills competition and has donned the C since he first signed with the team.
However, for all their similarities, these two Bruins greats had a different style of play in different eras that only briefly overlapped near the end of Bourque’s Hall-of-Fame career and the early days of Chara’s amazing run that was still going strong when the league halted play in mid-March.
Awards Rolling In
Let’s begin with a look back at Bourque’s storied career. He was drafted by the Bruins as the eighth pick overall in the 1979 National Hockey League Entry Draft. He wasted no time in displaying his elite talent, finishing his rookie year, the 1979-80 season, with 65 points and winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year.
In a career that spanned 23 seasons, from the 1979-80 campaign through 2000-01, Bourque played 1,612 games. Most of those were played as a member of the Bruins. However, most hockey fans will remember that he requested a trade from Boston during the 1999-00 season, hoping he could finish out his career with one of the few awards that had eluded him during his time in the Hub, a Stanley Cup.
The Bruins granted the request of one of the best defensemen to ever play the game, trading Bourque to the Colorado Avalanche. He played a total of 94 regular-season games in Colorado, a brief stint that did indeed end with the Quebec native hoisting hockey’s most coveted prize.
When he retired in June 2001, Bourque had contributed 410 goals and an incredible 1,169 assists. Both were league records among defensemen. In his career, he won the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top blueliner, five times and was named to numerous All-Star teams. He also won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in recognition for his humanitarian and leadership efforts both on the ice and in the community.
Bourque’s No. 77 has been retired by both the Bruins and the Avalanche. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.
The first difference between Bourque and Chara, the current Bruins captain who hails from what is now Slovakia, is the stark contrast between Chara’s 6-foot-9 frame and Bourque’s 5-foot-11 stature. Chara is the tallest active player in the NHL.
Bigger Than Life
Perhaps as a result of his size, Chara plays a more physical game than Bourque did and frequently plays the role of the enforcer. Like Bourque, Chara takes a lead-by-example approach in his captaincy. Both men are well-respected both throughout the Bruins organization and around the league.
Chara, who just turned 43 on March 18, is in his 22nd NHL season. He was drafted in the third round, 56th overall in 1996 by the New York Islanders. He played four seasons on Long Island and another four with the Ottawa Senators before signing in Boston ahead of the 2006-07 season.
The Bruins immediately named Chara as their captain as soon as he came on board, and he has served in that capacity ever since. In addition, a majority of his career highlights have occurred since he first donned the Spoked-B in 2006.
Chara has won the Norris Trophy once in his career, earning the honor following the 2008-09 season. Like Bourque, Chara played a lot of hockey before he finally won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011. Unlike No. 77, he still had several years left in the tank since that Cup victory, leading his Bruins back to the Cup Final in 2014 and 2019.
“Big Zee” was a major factor in Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup victory. In fact, during the entire 2010-11 season Chara made his shifts count. He finished the regular season with a league-leading plus-33 rating. That trend continued in the playoffs, where his plus-16 rating also topped the leaderboard.
Chara has been named to the NHL All-Star team three times in his career, with his first appearance coming in 2003 when he was playing for the Senators. He has played in 1,553 games to date, recording 205 goals and 451 assists in that time. He is also an incredible plus-288 lifetime.
Like Bourque, Chara has built a reputation for his tireless efforts in the community. However, perhaps his most important contribution to the sports world is the path he cleared for a whole new generation of Eastern European athletes.
Blazing a Trail
Chara was only the second European-born and trained captain to win the Stanley Cup when the Bruins accomplished the feat in 2011. He also played for Slovakia in the 2014 Winter Olympics, and he had the honor of carrying his country’s flag in the opening ceremonies.
With the uncertainty surrounding when, or if, the 2019-20 NHL season will resume in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is impossible to know what Chara’s hockey future holds. At 43, the oldest active player, he is playing under a one-year deal signed with the Bruins in March 2018.
When Chara’s NHL career is over, he will join Bourque as one of the most heralded members of an iconic Original Six franchise. And fans will almost certainly someday see his No. 33 in the rafters of TD Garden alongside the retired jerseys of Bourque and many other Bruins legends.
Two men from different parts of the world with different playing styles have one thing in common – the names Bourque and Chara will both live on in Boston sports lore for years to come.
I am a 46-year-old journalist living in the greater Pittsburgh area with my husband and two cats. I am a proud Penn State University alum. Hockey is life. Not much else needs to be said.