Chara's size disadvantage

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:06 AM ET

Hockey Night in Canada officials are drooling over the potential of it, revenge-seeking Montreal Canadiens fans are thirsting for it, and Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, well, he’s not quite sure how he feels about it.

We’re referring, of course, to the fact that, if the season was to end on Sunday, the first round of the playoffs would feature the renewal of the long-time rivalry between the Habs and Bruins, one that gained additional bitterness with Zdeno Chara’s controversial hit on Max Pacioretty two weeks ago.

Let’s be blunt here: It would be a circus on the ice, among the fans and with the media.

How would you feel about that, Mr. Chiarelli?

“I don’t know. Ask me that in a week,” a laughing Chiarelli told the Toronto Sun on Saturday.

In what could be a post-season preview oozing with hatred, the Habs and Bruins will face off at the TD Garden on

Thursday in their first meeting since the horrific Pacioretty injury. Count on the NHL police giving both teams a stern warning prior to a game Thursday that has all the makings of a powderkeg.

The target of much of the ill-will, at least from a Montreal perspective, will be Chara, who is Public Enemy No. 1 in La Belle Province these days.

Whatever you might think of his hit on Pacioretty that sent the Montreal forward slamming into the divider glass at the end of the bench, Chara has never carried the reputation of a Sean Avery or Matt Cooke as being a consistent cheap-shot artist. With even more hype and hoopla certain to loom over him in the coming days, it will be interesting to see how the lumbering defenceman handles the next wave of criticism that will be chucked his way.

“(Chara) is strong mentally but he’s sensitive to some things,” Chiarelli said. “I know he’ll figure out some way around it.

“He’s a clean player. I’ve known him since his time in Ottawa. I know how conciencious he is about it. Knowing how conscientious Zee was about it, it was tough to see him go through it.

“That’s not to take anything away from Max and the injury because it was a serious injury. We all wish him a complete recovery.”

Standing in front of the hulking Chara after the Bruins morning skate at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday, one interesting issue came to mind.

At 6-foot-4, yours truly can count on one hand how many interviews have personally been conducted over the past two decades in which there was reason to reach up to hold the recorder in order to capture the subject’s words. When interviewing the 6-foot-9 Chara, however, that’s exactly the case.

At the same time, had Chara accidently bumped his inquisitor, we’d be gulping headache pills right now, not scribbling this column.

There’s the rub.

While NHL general managers spent time in Florida last week debating if all head shots should be banned from the game, does that mean Chara or, to a lesser extent, 6-foot-5 Maple Leafs defenceman Keith Aulie, would now longer be able to inflict body contact of any kind?

If Chara’s shoulder is at head level of this lanky Toronto Sun columnist, does that not mean that almost any hit, as clean as it might be, would be a head shot?

Chiarelli admits it’s a “grey area” the league continues to debate and struggle with.

“There definitely are discrepancies in size and strength,” Chiarelli said. “I mean, Zee has the respect of all the officials because he plays a clean game within the confines of the game in the context of the size and strength. He knows his size and strength puts him at a disadvantage.

“But I think it always will be a grey area. Unless all the players are six feet, 200 pounds, you are always going to have that. Another argument is: Does that mean all players that are 5-foot-3 should be protected? There’s the opposite side of that argument. It’s a game of strength, speed and skill. You have to be careful not to take away from that.”

For Chara’s part, it’s something he’s been forced to struggle with.

“I keep playing the same way,” Chara said. “You just have to keep playing the same way. You just have to adjust, be able to recognize when a guy’s in a position where you are can make a clean hit or when you are in a position where there is a danger of you hurting him.

“You just have to recognize those things. You can still have good battles. You just have to be wary. At the same time, players also have to understand they can’t put themselves in weak positions.”

Habs fans will have a field day with that statement. They’ll claim Pacioretty was in a “weak position” on the hit.

Either way, count on Chara continuing to be a hot topic of conversation in the coming days.

And, for that matter, weeks, should the Habs and Bruins clash in the first round.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


Videos

Photos