Haggerty: Chara plays his game despite criticism

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Haggerty: Chara plays his game despite criticism

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON There was an unmistakable round of applause 34 seconds into the game when Zdeno Chara hopped over the boards, and an even louder positive reaction from the crowd 10 seconds later when the Bs captain first touched the puck.

Both were reassuring gestures from the home crowd that they still appreciated their 6-foot-9 Slovakian Tower of Terror. The cheers were followed by a spontaneous Chara! Chara! Chara! chant that gained in volume and enthusiasm.

Chara responded to the crowd adulation with a pair of assists and his typically well-rounded 25:54 of ice time in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres, but there was a moment that held much more meaning to both Chara and his teammates.

I thought he handled himself well today, said Claude Julien. With everything thats going on it hasnt been easy on anybody. We keep mentioning that we understand what the other guy is going through, but our guy did not deliberately do anything.

"So when you dont do something deliberate and you understand some people are accusing you of it, its not easy to deal with. The way he handled himself tonight, he deserves a lot of credit.

There was a telling moment during the nights first shift, though, as Chara was being showered with love by the home crowd, that was so comfortingly typical of the punishingly physical player. Chara sped after Buffalo offensive playmaker Jason Pominville as he carried the puck toward the corner, and the Bs defenseman continued with the play after the Sabres forward quickly released the puck.

Hes not going to change the way he plays, said Johnny Boychuk. Hes a big man and hes our leader. We dont want to see him change his game. I would never want to see him change his game because I like seeing that physical play of his.

Chara finished his check with a flourish and belted Pominville exactly the same way he has in more than 900 games before last nights tilt. It's the way hell continue doling out intimidating body shots for many more years to come.

He wasnt disheartened or discouraged by the Montreal catcalls, the ridiculous threats of police prosecution for a hockey hit deemed clean on every single level, or the legions of hockey voices like Max Pacioretty, Steve Montador and Daniel Sedin recklessly intimating that Charas turnbuckle hit was by design.

Apparently Montador knows whats in Charas heart and mind (courtesy WEEI.com) despite serving as nothing more than a glorified punching bagSteve Butabi look-a-like during his two-month stint in Boston at the end of the 2008-09 season.

I dont see any reason to change my game or my style of play, said Chara. Im going to continue to play physical and play hard. Thats my game and I dont see any reason to change.

In Charas case, hes fortunate that both the league and the majority of his fellow NHLers dont want to change, either.

Chara put all the criticism aside and played a solid, wrinkle-free hockey game against a highly motivated Sabres group skating at a very high level. He was more than happy to simply talk about hockey again.

Thats obviously one of those things I love to do, said Chara. Playing hockey is obviously my most important thing in life. To be on the ice thats for sure the most important.

I very much appreciated the crowd ovation and Im very thankful for that. It feels for sure great to be home, and to get that support from the fans.

The play on the ice was highlighted by Charas involvement in the second and third goals of the night including a clever rush toward the cage on the right side that attracted Ryan Miller away from the crease and opened the net up for Mark Recchi on an easy put-back score.

But the day was about much more than a single game despite the playoff ramifications. It was more about Chara reconnecting with his game after very nearly having it taken away via suspension. Then it was about learning afterward that perhaps the Montreal firestorm was losing a little bit of its steam with Pacioretty unwilling to agree with any police charges, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman essentially telling Air Canada -- which threatened to pull all its sponsorships -- to go pound sand if they werent happy with the league.

Chara knew the potential police investigation was far-fetched, but theres little doubt the Bruins defenseman wont be feeling all that safe and protected the next time he has to play at the crazed, frenzied Bell Centre a scenario that could very easily play out in the first round of the playoffs if Boston and Montreal face off against each other.

The towering All-Star defenseman hopes to gets a chance to square things away with Pacioretty sooner rather than later once hes ready to talk things over, and Chara can explain exactly what did or didnt happen during their violent crash.

Its just a nice gesture, said Chara when asked about Pacioretty throwing cold water on criminal charges for a hockey play gone wrong. Its something that for sure shouldnt go that far. Its something that is very unfortunate. I keep repeating that. I feel bad about it.

You dont want to see anybody get hurt and especially in that case, upper body and neck and head. We all feel bad. It doesnt matter, rivalry or not a rivalry, its something that we all want to see the guy recover. Im going to try to reach out with him and have a talk with him: either over the phone or to see him in person. But I totally understand and respect that now he probably needs time and space and to be around his closest family. Im sure when the time is right, Ill probably reach out and talk and somehow connect.

So now its clear that both Chara and Pacioretty have moved on from the turnbuckle incident, and picked up the pieces left in its wake. The Bs Captain is simply trying to lead his team toward the playoffs without any more distractions coming off three straight losses, and Pacioretty is starting the long road to recovery from a fractured neck and severe concussion stemming from the hellish collision.

Now that the players have moved on, perhaps its time for the fans, media, fellow players, police and NHL watchdogs to do exactly the same thing until the next big league emergency pops for a public roasting.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

Bergeron and Marchand convinced Backes to join Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN -- For those excited about the idea of an intense, hard-hitting David Backes in a Bruins uniform for the next five years, you have Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand to partially thank.

Backes, 32, didn’t know either of them all that well prior to this summer, aside from his experiences on ice against them. But Bergeron and Marchand called Backes multiple times while recruiting him to Boston, and it was a major factor in the former Blues captain signing a five-year, $30 million deal with the B's.

“Being an outsider, we need to have a little bit of confession here that Marchand is the kind of guy that gets under everybody’s skin. I was no different,” said the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes, who has 206 goals and 460 points in 727 career NHL games, all with St. Louis. “But then talking to him a little bit in the interview process prior to July 1, I hung up the phone and had to take a deep breath and say to myself, ‘That little disturber, he’s actually a pretty good guy.’ Those guys end up being the best teammates.

“A guy like Bergeron, when you play against him [he's] always in the right spot, and is never making mistakes. Those types of guys, again, are guys you want on your team, and guys you want to go to war with. They’re All-World players, Bergeron is an All-World player. But he’s also a down-to-earth guy that puts his work boots on, takes his lunch pail and plays his butt off. He’s nice to the young kids, and he’s nurturing in helping them come along. I think you’ve seen in the NHL that you need a few guys on entry-level deals, or a few guys to outperform their contracts, in order to have success in the salary-cap era. That nurturing and mentorship can really foster those kinds of performances.”

While Backes went on to mention Zdeno Chara as another highly respected, formidable opponent with whom he’ll now share a dressing room, it was interesting to note that players who currently have letters on their sweaters, like Chara and David Krejci, didn’t play a part in the recruiting process. Instead it was the next captain of the team (Bergeron) and a player (Marchand) currently in the middle of negotiations entering the last year of his contract.

“I talked to both Bergeron and Marchand twice before July 1," said Backes. "Just the way that they spoke about their team mentality, and teaming up together and sharing the load of hard minutes that need to be played, and also sharing the load of the offensive necessities that a team has . . . those things just rang true to my beliefs of a team.

“You’re all equals whether you’re the top-paid guy, or the top-minute guy, or the low-minute guy, or the guy that’s playing every other game because you’re the healthy scratch in the other games.

“We all needed to be treated equal, and do whatever we can to support the next guy. When the next guy has success, we have to be just as happy as if we scored the goal. That’s the type of thing where, when you get that from the full 20 guys on the ice, it’s so tough to be beat. Those are the teams that win championships.”

It will be interesting to see just how much involvement Backes has with the Bergeron and Marchand combination. He could very easily be a right-wing fit with those two dynamic forwards next season, or he could be a third-line center behind Bergeron and Krejci and give the Bruins elite depth down the middle of the ice.

True to his team-oriented nature, Backes said he’ll be happy to play at either position and do whatever Claude Julien feels is best.

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

Backes introduces Bruins fans to his 'Athletes for Animals' charity

JAMAICA PLAIN -- David Backes probably could have opted to have his introductory press conference inside the Bruins dressing room at TD Garden, or maybe even in some finished part of the team's new practice facility in Brighton, which is set to open a couple of months from now.

Instead, the new Bruins forward met face-to-face with the media for the first time while taking a tour of the MSPCA and, in the process, introducing Bruins fans to his “Athletes for Animals” charity, a foundation that promotes rescuing -- and protecting the welfare of -- homeless pets nationwide.

Backes took pictures with a pit bull named Greta that’s been at the MSPCA Adoption Center for the last seven months looking for a “forever home”.

And as he spoke, it became abundantly clear that this is what the 32-year-old former St. Louis Blues captain is all about.

“[Taking a tour of the facility] gives you a warm feeling inside, and makes you feel like you’re already a part of the city while helping give some attention to the great work that they’re doing,” said Backes, the owner of four dogs (Maverick, Rosey, Marty, Bebe) and two cats (Sunny, Poly), who is house-hunting in Boston this week with his wife and 13-month-old daughter.

“Hopefully this will be just the beginning of our connecting with the community, and helping serve the people that are great fans of the Bruins and that will be watching us every night. [Hopefully] they’re watching us go on deep playoff runs year after year.”

Backes’ efforts with rescue animals gained national notoriety when he took time to help with the stray dog situation in Sochi, Russia during the last Winter Olympics. But the roots of his “Athletes for Animals” charity goes back to his college days at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

“The full story is that in college we wanted an animal or two, but it just wasn’t responsible because we were renting and the landlords didn’t approve," he said "We just didn’t really have the time or resources to support them, so we volunteered at the local shelter for the three years I was in school.

“When my wife [Kelly] and I moved to St. Louis, we wanted to connect with the community, be a part and use our voice to influence social change to do our part making the world a little bit of a better place. So we said ‘Why not connect with the animal welfare rescue community?’

“We absolutely love doing it: Walking dogs, scooping litter boxes and cleaning kennels. Let’s use our voice to kick this off and see what we can do, and it really just snowballed from that to then trying to tie other guys into it. It’s not limited to the animal stuff, but the animals that don’t have a voice, and the kids that don’t have a voice, really tug at our heart strings. We want to help them with this blessing of a great voice we’ve been given as professional athletes, and to really use that to give them some help.”

For these reasons alone, Backes is a great fit in Boston. The Bruins donate heavily to the MSPCA and were one of the first NHL organizations to come up with the Pucks ‘N Pups calendar, which each year features Bruins players and their dogs, or strays from the MSPCA, to raise money for the animal welfare organization.

To learn more about Backes’ organization, “Athletes for Animals,” visit http://athletesforanimals.org .