Europe’s Zdeno Chara making his presence known at World Cup

Leon Draisaitl scored in overtime on a breakaway to get Team Europe a 3-2 win over Team Czech Republic.

It was easy (and tempting) to write off Zdeno Chara when Team Europe played its first game in semi-seriousness not quite two weeks ago, a pre-tournament loss to the boy band better know as Team North America.

Chara is 39 years old and looked every bit of it every shift against Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and the rest of the fleet Boy Scouts of North America.

That the towering Slovak was a First Team All-Star in 2014 seemed to be a matter of history and of little importance going forward. Though Chara was given an A for Team Europe, most hockey fans wouldn’t imagine that he’d make an impact in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey—or if they did, it came with the assumption that Europe wouldn’t be playing more than the three minimum games in the tournament.

The team’s outlook brightened when Europe beat Team USA in the tournament opener on Saturday, and brightened more after a 3-2 overtime win over the Czech Republic on Monday afternoon. The continent’s second consecutive win in the tournament leaves them in a sweet — if not guaranteed — position to advance to the semi-finals.


All Team Europe needs is a Canadian win over the U.S. on Tuesday — not a huge ask. Or a Czech win over the Americans on Thursday, which is somewhat less probable.

Chara loomed largest in the game. (At 6-foot-9 he has little choice in the way he looms.) No, he isn’t the franchise defenceman on this team—that title belongs to Roman Josi, who logged over 28 minutes vs. the Czechs. But Chara was out there for just under 20 minutes with defence partner Andrej Sekera and never seemed to struggle to keep the pace while going plus-2.

Moreover, he scored the opening goal in the second period — no thing of beauty, just a shot drifted from the wall.

He could have easily had a pair of goals. Late in the first period, at the end of an exquisite four-way passing play, Chara walked in on the Czech goal unchecked from the blue line and wired a shot that was going top shelf. Czech net minder Petr Mrazek was down and cleanly beaten but the puck caromed off the shaft of his stick.

Lo, those several days ago when Team Europe first gathered in Quebec City for training camp, Chara sounded guardedly optimistic about his game.

“I feel good about it at my age and at this stage of my career,” he said. “I worked extra hard this summer to be in condition for the tournament. At my age, you just have to do more. Maybe there’s a step [I’ve lost], but I have a lot of experience that I can use. I still love the game and I still love to compete, whether it’s this tournament or in Boston.”

Chara is by reason of physical stature a presence in any room he enters, but in the Team Europe room that is much more the case.

Said Marian Hossa, who has played with Chara internationally with Slovakia going back almost a couple of decades: “Zdeno is one of the most respected guys in the game. We’re good friends. We live on the same street in Trencin. To have any chance to play with him internationally is special for me and it’s special for everyone in [the Team Europe] lineup.”

Hossa left unstated but understood that the World Cup carries even greater significance for him with regard to his neighbour: What with the NHL’s to-and-fro on going to the 2018 Olympics, this World Cup is possibly the last chance that he and Chara will have to play together in a tournament of this stature — or anything except a not-so-far-off old-timers game.

Also, though no one gave Team Europe much of a shot at going deep in this tournament, it’s Hossa’s and Chara’s best chance to compete on even terms with the international elite. If you write down the names of the best centre and best defenceman on each of the teams in the tournament, only Canada can really better Anze Kopitar and Josi, and it’s hard to think of anyone who matches Team Europe on that count.

That this makeshift team rates as the two Slovaks’ last best chance isn’t quite the biggest story in the tournament, but it’s in the running for the best in the opening round of the World Cup.

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