The tallest man to ever play in the NHL, Zdeno Chara was born in Trencin, Slovakia, on March 18, 1977. Drafted 56th overall in the third round of the 1996 Entry Draft by the New York Islanders, he currently plays defense for the Boston Bruins. Chara is 6'9", 255 lbs, shoots left, and wears jersey number 3. The Senators acquired him in 2001 via trade with the Islanders, along with Bill Muckalt and a first round draft pick (which turned out to be Jason Spezza) in exchange for Alexei Yashin.
Zdeno's father, Zdenek, was something of a sports hero in the former Czechoslovakia, having competed in wrestling in the 1976 Olympic Games, as well as coaching the national junior and senior wrestling teams. He put his son through an arduous physical training regimen in order to give his son an advantage should he choose to pursue a career in sports. Often, this would include wrestling with his father's charges. Although the young Chara was often reduced to tears during the detested exercises, he is now thankful that his father pushed him so hard.
Until Chara hit puberty, he was of a relatively normal height. But his co-ordination took a terrible blow when as a teenager, Chara began growing and didn't stop until he'd reached his current massive stature. Following his growth spurt, many coaches in the hockey hotbed of Trencin advised him to give up the sport, which Chara says only gave him more motivation to succeed: "I got angry and wanted to prove [coaches back home] wrong. I hated it and it motivated me. I think I had [determination] from a young age. My dad did a really good job with me."
It was at this time that Chara decided he wanted to be a professional hockey player, and set about turning his greatest obstacle into his greatest asset. With the aid of his father, Chara eventually learned to master his own body, while also adding to his strength (today he can bench press over 300 lbs). Drafted in 1996, Chara spent a year in the major junior leagues with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL. He spent the following season alternating between playing with the Islanders and their AHL affiliate in Kentucky, where he was named to the AHL's All-Rookie Team. The following year, Chara split his time between the Isles and the AHL, taking time off to represent Slovakia at the World Championships, where they earned a silver medal.
Chara played his first season as a full time Islander in 1999-2000, notching 11 points in 65 games, while leading his team in hits with 309. The following season saw similar numbers as Chara scored only 9 points in 82 games, although he did accrue 157 penalty minutes, and led the NHL with 373 hits.
Following the trade to Ottawa in June of 2001, Chara's stats improved considerably. He scored 10 goals, and recorded 13 assists, with a plus-minus rating of +30, and 156 penalty minutes.
While his penchant for physical play has worked miracles for the Senators' playoff chances, his playing style has caused Chara to suffer numerous injuries and missed games. With Prince George, Chara missed 23 games due to a wrist injury, yet upon his return he went on to finish first among defensemen and fourth on his team in playoff scoring. The leader in hits for the Islanders in 1999-2000, who in turn led the league in hits as a team, Chara was forced to miss 16 games with a shoulder injury. In 2001-2002, Chara's worth was proved to the Ottawa Senators at an inopportune time, as they lost two consecutive playoff games to the Maple Leafs prior to their elimination, while Chara was out nursing a knee injury.
Gary Roberts described Chara as "a small monster", warning that "...when you are up against a player like him, you are going to get bumped and you are going to take some squashes to the head in the glass. You go after that guy, you are going to hurt yourself." Unlike most European players, Chara's game centres around his ability to physically dominate other players, which in turns leads to offensive opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Chara signed as a free agent with Boston prior to the 2006-07 NHL season.
Despite being omitted from the ballot, Chara was honoured with his first All-Star selection this February, alongside childhood friend and teammate Marian Hossa.