I put in the request for five minutes of Zdeno Chara's time after the morning skate.
It was game day and the captain of the Boston Bruins and his teammates were getting set to host the Toronto Maple Leafs. I always ask for just five minutes because I never want to bug a player for too much of his time, especially a superstar.
After the Bruins' morning skate the media piled into the dressing room. I chatted a bit with Chris Kelly and Shawn Thornton, and then was told Chara was ready. I noticed immediately that Chara stands when shaking someone's hand, a gentlemanly act.
He was in a laid back mood and why not? A winning stretch of 12-0-1 is enough to take the knots out of the back and ease sore shoulders. Chara looked as though he just finished a relaxing yoga class.
I start by asking him about becoming a certified financial planner. He took a four-year correspondence course at Algonquin College in Ottawa while still playing for the Senators.
He confessed that boredom sets in fairly quickly while travelling for hockey. He didn't want to play cards or video games to pass the time; instead, he wanted to stimulate his brain.
Chara has always been good with numbers.
When he said he enjoyed math class I was stunned, somewhat disgusted, and jealous that a course with which I struggled came easy to him.
I asked where he plans to live when he retires and he said it's a toss-up between Boston and Ottawa. He just sold his house in Ottawa at the end of November but still owns land there. He has many family and friends in his native Slovakia and that's where he took the Stanley Cup, but it's a place he will only visit.
Wife scores better
Chara took the four-year financial course with his wife, Tatiana, who's in the financial industry, and admitted she left him in her dust with her test scores. He lowered his voice a bit as if to share a shameful secret, and said that on the multiple choice questions he guessed at most of them and simply chose the number that looked the most appealing. You're not alone on that one Zdeno, you're not alone.
Another reporter came by to say hi to Chara and stuck around for a few minutes. When the reporter, left Chara turned to me and apologized profusely for the interruption; another gentlemanly act.
We began to talk about his passion for travel and how that passion has fuelled his desire to learn new languages. Before I could ask him more there was a general call for the media to leave the dressing room. I stand to leave and Chara tells me I don't have to go, he's having too much fun comparing his travels to mine.
There's definitely more to this Stanley Cup champion than hockey. We got back to his new challenge in life - learning another language. Chara is fluent in English, Czech, Russian, and Slovakian. He said he can get by in German and Swedish. But now he wants to learn a language he said sounds like singing ... Italian.
When I told him my parents are from Italy and began saying a few things in Italian, he looked at me like he wanted my autograph.
It was just the two of us and a few equipment guys in the room. Chara is a gracious host and doesn't make me feel like a nuisance for going over the five-minute limit. I suggested Rosetta Stone to him and wished him luck in his new challenge.
He and his Bruins went on to win the game that night, bringing their record to 13-0-1 since the start of November. Maybe by the new year our next chat will be in Italian.
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