You just don’t want to fight Zdeno Chara. The Slovak is one of the biggest guys ever in the NHL, and he had the reach and power to cause some serious harm. Chara wasn’t a goon, however. Instead, everybody who’s played with or against him confirms he’s one of the nicest guys ever. He just didn’t want to hurt people.
But at the same time, he was a leader and always understood when he needed to step up for his team.
Just ask Mike Rupp.
Rupp played with the Pittsburgh Penguins when his teammate Matt Cooke ended the Boston Bruins star Marc Savard’s career with an ugly blindside hit.
”Marc Savard was never the same, and it sucked. I was on Pittsburgh when that happened and it sucked seeing that. It was awful,” Rupp said on That’s Hockey Talks.
Rupp was also on the team when Pittsburgh played in Boston for the first time since the devastating hit.
”We’re going in there, and we’re traveling with extra security—the team’s bringing extra security on this trip to Boston for Cooke. The front page of the Boston Herald, not the front page of the sports, the f*cking front page of the newspaper, had a ’Wanter dead or alive Matt Cooke’ picture.
”So we go into the game, and we’re getting ready to go out for the game to start. During warm-ups, Bill Guerin and Mark Recchi met at center ice.”
They both agreed that Cooke had to answer the bell. They said he had to, or else it was about to get ugly. And every Pittsburgh player agreed.
”After Cooke answers it; no more! They’re not going to get three shots at him. So if Big Z comes, or Lucic comes, we got to step in. We had that understanding.”
Matt Cooke had to answer to a fight against Shawn Thornton in his first shift of the game.
”It seemed to be done,” Mike Rupp said.
”But we’re in the game, and me and Zdeno Chara line up for a face-off. Our team winning, and Chara lines up to me and he goes, ’Rupper, may I have this fight?’ And I’m like, ’what?’ I didn’t know what to say. That was the most polite way someone’s asked me to punch my face in I’ve ever heard.”
Rupper declined the fight but told Chara to ask him again in the third period.
”The next shift I go out with him, he says, ”Rupper, what about now?” And I just went, ’Come on, Z, not now. Nothing’s f*cking changed since the last time we talked.”
Pittsburgh was up a couple of goals in the third period, and Rupper had to answer to Chara
”So I line up, taking the draw, Shawn Thornton leans in and goes, ’Hey, Reppy. I think the big man wants you.’ I just lean back and look behind Short, and I look back across the blue line and I see Chara, and he just goes, ’Come on! Come on!’”
Rupp finally dropped the gloves to fight Chara, but he would quickly regret it.
”It was the worst decision I’ve ever made. I never had to have a fight where I was outsized like that. I’m coming in and I’m trying to grab, and my reach has always been a huge advantage of mine. But the closer I’m getting to him, his hand is right here, but his head is way back. I threw my first punch and it hit his elbow. I was done. He threw a few, he beat me for sure, but I was able to save a little bit of my face.”
When the fight was over, Chara thanked Rupper for it.
”He said, ’Thank you very much, I appreciate that. It was very respectful.’ The most polite man I’ve ever met in my life. That was an experience, but Big Z is so polite it’s scary. But man, he can mess some people up.”