BOSTON -- Zdeno Chara went into this winter’s Olympics, his third, knowing full well they might be his last.
The Bruin captain turns 37 soon, and there’s no way of knowing where his game, or his body, will be once he pushes past the age-40 barrier. There’s also a chance Slovakia won't qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, given the way it struggled in Sochi; the Slovaks looked both slow and a little old against the world’s top competition. And even if Chara is still capable of playing in the Olympics in '18, and even if Slovakia fields a team, the NHL might not allow its players to participate in the Winter Games next time around.
For all those reasons Chara was intent on enjoying every minute of the experience in Sochi, from carrying the Slovakian flag in the opening ceremonies to captaining a squad full of his countrymen.
“It could have possibly been my last [Olympic] game, so I wanted to make the best of it,” he said. “I don’t know if Slovakia is going to even qualify. I personally enjoy going to the Olympics, but it’s something that needs to be discussed as a whole. Right now it’s too soon to discuss what’s going to happen in four years.”
The actual Olympic experience was a trying one for Chara and Slovakia. The Slovaks -- missing key players like Marian Gaborik and Lubomir Visnovsky -- were clearly a level below Canada, the United States, Finland and Sweden.
Even so, Chara will never forget it.
“Everything about it, I enjoyed," he said. "The scenery was great, and I enjoyed the way everything was set up. It was amazing people and great personalities. It was one of my greatest experiences.
“It was very neat to be a part of the whole experience in the village. It was very special, and a dream come true to be able to carry my country’s flag. It could have never happened without the Bruins organization, the coaching staff, my teammates and the Slovakian Hockey Federation. All of the credit goes to them. Now it’s back to business.”
"Business" includes the soon-to-be 37-year-old Chara shaking off the jet lag, nine-hour time difference and general fatigue from the high intensity Olympic tournament . . . and having to do all that while playing games. The first one is Wednesday night against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center, and there won’t be any excuses about an Olympic hangover hovering over Boston’s collective heads.
“I’m sure we’re going to feel it for a few days," he said. "There’s no secret you’re going anywhere from a 9-12 hour time difference. I felt tired today, for sure. There’s a little jet lag, but you’ve just got to take care of your body and be smart about your rest and nutrition. I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”
Both Chara and David Krejci -- who also rejoined the B's on Monday, after competing for the Czech Republic -- expressed some fatigue after skating for the first time in Boston, and that was after getting a few days to rest upon returning on the NHLPA charter from Russia. It will be up to them to now scale things back, and get some rest facing the compacted schedule that has them playing 17 games – and six back-to-backs – during 31 days in a crazy, busy month of March.