By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs
WILMINGTON The anguish on Zdeno Charas face was plain as he sat down at his locker stall following captains practice with his Bruins teammates on Thursday morning at Ristuccia Arena.
Chara lost a lifelong friend in NHL scorer and fellow Slovakian Pavol Demitra, who was among the 43 that perished in the horrific Lokomotiv plane crash near Minsk on Wednesday morning. The former Minnesota Wild and Vancouver Canucks forward attended Charas Stanley Cup celebration this summer in his hometown of Trencin with his family. The two NHL stars were also neighbors in Slovakia during the summer offseason, and remained very close friends in the hockey world.
I knew Demitra very well growing up with him and being my neighbor. Pavol was always so easy going, said Chara. He was always friendly with anybody and everybody. He never had a conflict with anybody. People dont know how dedicated he was."
Chara and Demitra had long been teammates on the Slovakian national teams while growing up as European hockey superstars, and they both shared agent Matt Keator during their professional playing careers.
"Its a huge shock still, said Chara. Its horrible. Its tragic and shook up the whole world . . . the hockey world especially. We all feel bad about the player's families. Its something that is just hard to swallow, you know?
Chara and Demitra grew up about 20 minutes away from each other in the neighboring towns of Trencin and Dubnika, and he still hadnt entirely wrapped his brain around the awful plane crash that decimated an entire KHL team roster.
The stunning tragedy had jolted Chara like one of the crushing body checks hes used to doling out to other players, and coping with it was all he could do.
Former Bruins, Whalers, Red Wings and Coyotes defenseman Brad McCrimmon was also lost in the crash as the head coach for Lokomotiv. He was one of Charas defensemen coaches as the 6-foot-9 blueliner developed in the New York Islanders organization.
Chara played against more than a half-dozen of the KHL players lost in the crash, and Chara spoke about both Demitra and McCrimmon with his head downcast. The fresh wound of loss was understandably still fresh and stinging the Bs captain, and he spoke cathartically about losing several hockey figures near and dear to him so tragically.
There were other guys I've played with . . . or a coach I had in Brad McCrimmon in the Islanders system, said Chara. When you get to know other players and coaches as people, its devastating.
The Bs defenseman said that Demitra had made the decision to play in the KHL for Lokomotiv starting last season so his school-age children could learn in Slovakian schools. That family-based decision was one of the things about Demitra that Chara hoped will live on as his legacy.
He was very favored and a popular guy with all of the other guys. We all know that he was an extremely talented player, said Chara. What people probably dont know is how dedicated a dad he was. He was always spending time with his kids and his family. That speaks for itself too. He had offers from the NHL, but he chose to go back to Slovakia for his kids and wife when it was time for them to go to their schools in Slovakia. Its a very sad time right now.