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Zdeno Chara standing tall for Team Europe

At 39, defenseman ponders career, legacy, possible World Cup title

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Director of Editorial

TORONTO -- Team Europe defenseman Zdeno Chara does not cast as a big a shadow as he's accustomed to.

That's no small feat for a man who stands 6-foot-9 and weighs 250 pounds.

But Chara is OK with his lower profile at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. It comes with the territory of getting older in what is a young man's game. At 39, Chara knows he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

But he also knows his legacy is among the most impressive the game has seen. He doesn't think about it often, but when he does, there is more than a little self-satisfaction with what he has accomplished.

"I'm proud of where I am at," Chara said Wednesday, the day before the Game 2 of the best-of-3 final against Team Canada (8 p.m. ET; ESPN2, CBC, TVA, TVA Sports). "It doesn't matter what age you are, you have to appreciate the game. If you are not appreciating the game, the game is not going to be appreciating you."

Video: Chara: WCH most competitive tournament of all-time

After a 3-1 loss to Team Canada in Game 1 on Tuesday, Team Europe must win Thursday at Air Canada Centre to force a deciding game here Saturday.

The signs of regression are there for all to see.

The captain of the Boston Bruins, Chara is an alternate captain for Team Europe under center Anze Kopitar. The leading man on defense in Boston for more than a decade, he has ceded that role here to Roman Josi, the up-and-coming offensive defenseman of the Nashville Predators.

Yet Chara is content with how things have gone during the past month.

"It's been great; [the tournament] really exceeded my expectations as far as how it has all played out and has turned out," Chara said. "I'm really enjoying myself. I have a real passion for this game. I love hockey, I love competing, I love playing against the best."

It's not as if Chara has faded away completely; he is a dominant force, often serving as the beacon with his work ethic and leadership for a team of disparate individuals looking to find common ground in the chaos of a short tournament.

"He's definitely been a tower in more ways than his physical presence," Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger said this week. "It's the man inside of that tower that's really quite amazing to work with, and it's been such a pleasure."

Chara must be doing something right. He has been the target of boos from the Toronto fans in almost every game he has played in the tournament. The vitriol was especially noticeable Tuesday.

But even that doesn't bother Chara as much as it once might have.

"I try to focus on the game and do what I can do and play my best," he said. "Obviously, I can't control the fans. Sometimes, I just don't understand. I think they boo just because they need to boo someone."

He had some fun with it. After the game Tuesday, Team Europe forward Mats Zuccarello was at dinner with Chara and teammate Dennis Seidenberg, and Zuccarello asked Chara why he was being booed all the time.

"[Chara] said, 'No, they are not booing me, they are just saying 'Zucc!'" Seidenberg said, breaking into a wide smile as he told the story.

Seidenberg, who played in Boston with Chara for the past seven seasons, relished the story because it showed a lighter side of Chara, one the fans don't see enough.

"He's always a guy that has been really serious and very competitive and gives everything to this game," Seidenberg said. "Maybe you can't see it, but I think he enjoys the game a little more. He's such a great leader and leads by example. When you are in that position, it is tough to really let go and do what you want to do sometimes."

As Chara has aged, he has taken more time to consider his place in the game and what his achievements have meant. On Wednesday, he seemed to be more at peace with his contributions and the impact he has had on others during a professional career that started in 1997 with the New York Islanders.

"When you are younger, you don't realize how fast it all goes by," he said. "You don't realize how fast it goes by until you are probably 10 years, 15 years into the League and then you realize, 'Wow, it's going really fast.'

"It's kind of one of those things you don't notice when you are younger maybe, but when you get a little but older, you realize. It's kind of like in regular life, you don't realize and then all of sudden you are mid-life and you are kind of forgetting about the childish things you did in the past."

For now, Chara only wants to think about the present. He believes Team Europe can force a winner-take-all Game 3.

But he also knows, win or lose, Team Europe, a hodgepodge of players from eight countries, has exceeded the expectations of most everybody outside its dressing room.

He has yet to process what it has accomplished in the face of overwhelming odds.

"I'll have to think about that once it is over," he said. "It has been a great experience. So many different nationalities and guys from all over the world playing for one team and coming together so quickly. It's been really nice to get to know them and to see how everybody interacts with each other and the team concept."

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