Boston Bruins allow Zdeno Chara to carry flag for Slovakia at Sochi opening ceremony

Slovakia's flag-bearer and Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara leads his country's contingent...

Slovakia's flag-bearer and Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara leads his country's contingent during the athletes' parade at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Feb. 7, 2014. (PHIL NOBLE/Reuters)

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:05 PM ET

ADLER, RUSSIA - While his Boston Bruins teammates likely were sound asleep in the wee hours of Friday morning, defenceman Zdeno Chara was dipping his head to make it through a doorway at Slovakian Point, that country's improvised gathering place in the Adler train station.

Chara dipped his head and straightened up to face a horde of mostly Slovakian and Canadian journalists upon his arrival here, a few hours before he was to carry his nation's flag into Fisht Stadium in the Olympic Park close to the shore of the Black Sea.

It's a long way from Beantown where the Bruins were to host the Ottawa Senators Saturday afternoon, the last game for the two clubs before the NHL enters the Olympic break.

Chara will have missed two of the Bruins' games to be here for what is the honour of a sporting lifetime. The B's lost 3-2 in overtime to the St. Louis Blues in the first game of Chara's absence.

"It's a huge privilege. I can't really describe until it all sinks in, probably (Friday) night. It's going to be very special. It is already. But like I've said many times, it's something you don't get to do or experience for many athletes. I'm very lucky and privileged to be able to do that," said Chara.

It was a remarkable concession that the Bruins were willing to allow their captain and arguably best skater to skip two games in an incredibly competitive NHL season to fulfill the honour bestowed upon him by his country.

Of course, once the opportunity presented itself, the Bruins might have put themselves in a tough spot if they had denied Chara such an opportunity. They would have been completely within their rights to do so, but chose the high road for a guy who's been a solid citizen.

"There were some discussions with the ownership and among the management and after three days. They asked me if it's important to me. I said, 'Of course. It's a huge honour,'" said Chara.

"And basically after that, they said, 'We're going support you. You've been with the organization for a long time, and you've done a lot of good changes.' I can't thank them enough. Honestly, it's a dream come true."

The Bruins gesture is also especially notable in an environment where the opposition among NHL owners to having their players participate in the Olympic Games is growing and will likely result in this being the last Olympic Games with NHL participation. They don't like the idea of shutting down their league for two weeks and when the Games are held halfway around the world, like they will be in 2018 in South Korea, the time difference means the NHL's product is on display in the middle of the night on television.

While the Bruins allowed Chara to skip two games, New York Islanders defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky has been denied permission to play for Slovakia despite playing five games since returning from a concussion, presumably because the Islanders feel he will benefit from the rest.

That's got Otto Sykora, the Slovakian general manager, looking for an explanation from his counterpart with the Isles, Garth Snow.

All you have to do is read the comments by Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snyder, one of the most influential men who sit at the league's Board of Governors table, who trashed the idea of NHL participation in the Games, saying it's "ridiculous ... I can only see negatives. Everything about it is wrong," to see where the NHL and the Olympics are going.

Or aren't going.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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