If Zdeno Chara never steps onto the ice again, at least he can do so knowing the respect that he commanded over his 24 years in the NHL.
While Chara’s future remains unclear, he was given a hero’s sendoff on Friday night as the New York Islanders closed out their regular season with a meaningless loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The final result may not have meant much, but the fans and the visiting Lightning made sure to let Chara know just how much he meant.
Tampa Bay players lined up to shake Chara’s hand after the final buzzer and the fans at UBS Arena chanted the 44-year-old’s name.
— Stefen Rosner (@stefen_rosner) April 30, 2022
“It was completely unexpected and it was just amazing feeling,” Chara said after the game. “To have that support from the fans and they were giving us all season long. I can’t really describe it. I was having chills and it was just a spectacular moment. I will cherish that for the rest of my life. Very classy and, like I said, amazing.”
Friday’s game could the final one of Chara’s illustrious career that has spanned more than two decades and includes a Stanley Cup Championship with the Boston Bruins. The veteran defenseman signed with the Islanders this past offseason in pursuit of another cup ring, but the regular season went far from what the team and Chara had envisioned.
Chara, who was originally drafted by the Islanders in 1996, was showered with love throughout the night on Friday as fans chanted his name and in the third begged the hulking defenseman to fire the puck every chance he had to try and score his first goal of the year in front of the home fans.
The moment finally came with less than a minute in the game to pull the Islanders within one.
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“I’ve not seen that ever in 20 years of the game,” Islander head coach Barry Trotz said about the whole night. “Zdeno’s not said anything about retiring, either to us or anybody else, but the other team after the game, coming over and saying can we shake his hand? That just tells me how much respect this player has garnered throughout the league.”
Now the question becomes what will Chara do for the 2022-23 season? The 45-year-old told reporters that a decision hadn’t been made and he was planning on just getting home to his family.
“I want to go home,” Chara said after the Islanders’ season finale. “I want to go home to my family. I’m gonna take some time off and once I’m going to make a decision, I’ll make it. But I think right now I just want to be home and be with my family. Just enjoy being home and being a dad. I haven’t made a firm final decision.”