by Ron Spence
Zdeno Chara clears the front of Boston’s net like a snowplow on steroids, scores as many as 16 or 17 goals a season, and battles any and all challengers.
He was drafted while still in Slovakia, and sent to Prince George to learn the North American game.
He smiles when he remembers his first fight with PG.
“Yeah, yeah,” he grins. “I think it was the very first game. I was just kind of waiting.”
Zdeno has never been afraid of physical contact.
“My dad was a wrestler,” he explains. “He was great at wrestling. I worked out with him quite a bit. And one of the big parts of the preparations for the NHL in North American-style hockey, was boxing … it was like that dimension – my physical presence. So that was always part of my childhood.”
He had played hockey since being a child, but they don’t fight in Slovakia.
“It’s a league where you don’t drop the gloves,” he says. “Usually we fight with gloves on.”
In Prince George, he totaled 120 penalty minutes, but wasn’t the only Cougar to drop his gloves.
“…there were some guys,” he shrugs.
These included: Dennis Mullen, fellow Slovakian Ron Petrovicky, and Rob Voltera, who plays for the Rio Grande Killer Bees.
Most of his initial scraps came from skirmishes in front of the net, but sometimes it was a “Let’s go!” situation.
courtesty of hockeydb.com
He played two partial NHL seasons in 1997-98 and 1998-99, and had only 4, and then 3 scraps.
Was he able to use any wrestling techniques that he had learned from his father? Did he trade punches, or use a defensive style and wait to counterpunch?
“The best way to learn is just by fighting,” he explains. “When you’re fighting, you’ll learn a lot, you start to use your intuition.”
Does he use his size and strength for leverage?
“Oh, yeah it does help,” he nods, “always using your strength.”
Does he let smaller fighters get in close?
“I’m trying not to,” he says.
During his 3rd and 4th years in the NHL, Zdeno only fought once and then twice. But, from his 5th until his 9th seasons (2003-04 – the last year before the lockout) he fought 5, 10, 4, and then 9 times.
courtesy of hockeyfights.com
Since then, he fought 3 times in the regular 2005-06 season, and once in the playoffs, and didn’t fight during 2006-07. He dropped the gloves 5 times last year.
What’s he learned the most about fighting in the NHL?
“The most important thing is to know what kind of fighter you’re fighting. It’s a good thing to know before you fight, if he likes to fight in tight, if he’s a righty, lefty, or both….”
So, he’s a student of the hockey fighters?
“Oh yeah, you get to know the people,” he nods. “You know when I watch for a couple of minutes, you get to know how they fight.”
Of course, he has to know how they fight these days.
He’s mainly fighting the big boys. Last season he battled both Donald Brashear and Georges Laraque.
And, if you let one of those guys tag you, your trainer will be taking your pulse as you’re staring at the hazy ceiling, and they’re packing you off on a stretcher.