Zdeno Chara just isn’t formally retired as of now, however at this level his NHL days are all however formally over. At 45 years outdated, it has been an unparalleled profession for what’s the bodily most original participant in hockey historical past. At 6’9 and 250 kilos, Chara put 1,680 video games below his belt, with legendary tales about his conditioning and the form he is been capable of carry himself in to keep up such a storied profession.
Chara’s NHL profession began in 1997-98 — a full seven years BEFORE the NHL even had a wage cap. It is unbelievable to assume how lengthy and the way a lot endurance he had. Chara performed within the NHL (for 2 seasons) whereas Wayne Gretzky was lively. Chara additionally performed this previous April in a recreation in opposition to 2021 first total choose Owen Energy. Energy was born in November 2002, Chara had an NHLPA pension secured from earlier than Energy was even born.
With all that historical past in thoughts, it is not laborious to seek out some nice moments through the years in opposition to the Penguins.
Youthful followers would possibly really not perceive simply how bodily dominant Chara was in his prime. Ryan Whitney has stated greater than as soon as on the Spittin’ Chiclets podcast that Chara ought to have been given the Girl Byng trophy for the league’s most gentlemanly participant throughout each single season he performed — merely for exhibiting sufficient restraint to not actually dish out everlasting bodily injury to an opponent on any given recreation. That sounds ridiculous on the floor, however on condition that we’re speaking concerning the largest participant in NHL historical past and certainly essentially the most muscular and strongest professional hockey participant that has ever existed, it is not that wild an idea.
With this in thoughts, let’s return to January 2001. Chara is however 24-years outdated at this second, a mere pup. He was nonetheless principally a novelty in as of late — a gargantuan defender, however not in his Norris Trophy last kind at this level as among the finest defensemen in NHL historical past. In any case, the Islanders would resolve to commerce Chara just some months after this second, together with the No. 2 total choose (which grew to become Jason Spezza) to Ottawa. NYI’s return for this king’s ransom? Alexei “Money in” Yashin. Mike Milbury, girls and gents, really one of many worst managers in NHL historical past.
Anyhow, again on level, let’s set the scene again in January 2001. Mario Lemieux had simply returned from retirement mere weeks in the past, instantly strolling again into the NHL and re-establishing himself as among the finest gamers within the recreation. The Penguins had been in a considerably perilous place total with their enviornment and monetary conditions, however embarking on what can be a charmed run over the course of the remainder of the season.
Enter Matthew Barnaby. For our youthful viewers, I assume one of the best ways to shortly describe Matthew Barnaby can be: “Think about how Brandon Tanev performs, however no humorous media image faces and in addition if he tries to battle about 20 occasions a season, or as many occasions as somebody will drop the gloves and go along with him”. Yeah, tremendous thrilling and the kind of participant that does not even exist any extra within the trendy recreation.
The context of this recreation and battle is astounding too. The Pens are successful 4-2 and there may be 1:19 left within the recreation. This contest is over, and there is not any cause besides to maintain it shifting and skate it off in direction of the win. However…for some cause, Barnaby picks a battle with Chara. Barnaby, listed tremendous generously at 6’0 and 188 kilos, does n’t even appear to be he is messing with a a lot older brother, it appears to be like like a younger child attempting to battle in opposition to his father for some unknown and extremely pointless cause. (Solely on this occasion, it is not a father or anybody who would have fond emotions to him).
Chara obliges, Barnaby hangs on to outlive about 4 or 5 proper fingers after which is ready to take the mountain of a person down when he will get off stability. That is about the best possible case state of affairs for Barnaby to get out of this scrap with all of his colleges in place.
Hilariously, but additionally fairly, Barnaby can be assessed an instigator penalty and choose up a recreation misconduct. (This additionally put the Pens in a penalty kill, and they’d surrender a objective to NYI however escape the sport with a 4-3 win with time operating out).
Deep down, there was a way behind the insanity. Barnaby scored 12 targets and 24 factors in 64 video games in the course of the earlier season of 1999-2000. For this season, Barnaby solely scored one objective and added 5 assists in 47 video games in Pittsburgh, coping with a pointy decline in position and significance on the workforce. With Mario again, the Pens had been gearing as much as strive for a run. Barnaby was exhibiting one thing to exhibit his gumption from him and what he needed to maintain his spot from him.
Although very brave to battle Chara (or simply kinda dumb in hindsight and a non-emotional view of the chance vs. reward elements of the scenario), it would not be sufficient for Barnaby. Two days after this PIT/NYI recreation, in separate trades Pittsburgh would add Kevin Stevens and in addition Krzysztof Oliwa to the workforce on January 14th, 2001. Oliwa was 6’5, 245 kilos and generally known as the “Polish Hammer”, an enforcer whose solely function was preventing and defending teammates, with a way more intimidating body than Barnaby. Stevens was within the twilight of his profession, however had the plain reference to Lemieux and can be one other winger in the best way of Barnaby’s spot on the roster.
Strikes like these do not occur in a vacuum. When Mario had very not too long ago made his return to nice fanfare, it was very apparent proper from the get go that Lemieux nonetheless had “it”. Absolutely Barnaby on some stage — both acutely aware or unconscious — knew there can be modifications to the roster and additions being made to the workforce. Strikes that may solely push him additional to the margins.
On the commerce deadline, the Pens despatched Barnaby to Tampa in alternate for checking line heart Wayne Primeau. Barnaby was superfluous to the workforce, regardless of his greatest efforts.
In time, Barnaby and Chara would battle on the ice three extra occasions. It might typically worsen for Barnaby, with Chara changing into rather more refined as a fighter and including the power to tie his opponent up along with his attain and left hand, all of the whereas delivering quick left jabs after which coming excessive with the vicious proper hammer.
Whether or not it was simply “loopy” or “loopy like a fox”, this battle from over 20 years in the past nonetheless stands out as a measure from a bygone period for a participant keen to do nearly something to make a mark and lay all of it on the road for the Penguins. It is also one thing of a fond farewell for Chara, who will go down in historical past as essentially the most bodily imposing participant that the NHL has ever seen.