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It's hard to imagine a bruiser and bouncer with a soft side, but Chara showed it at the 2009 All-Star weekend in Montreal, where he organized a charity drive among the players in the hardest-shot portion of the skills competition. In all he gleaned $24,000 from the competitors, their teams, the NHL and the players' association, with the money going to the winner's charity of choice. Fittingly, that winner was Chara, with a 105.4-mph blast. He donated his prize to Right to Play, the athlete-based initiative that aids children in developing countries by helping them play sports. Chara had previously supported the charity by traveling to Mozambique in 2008 and raising money through pledges for his climb of Mount Kilimanjaro that summer. A traveler and a voracious reader, Chara speaks seven languages, and he most likely broke out several of them at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, where he led Slovakia to a surprisingly solid fourth-place finish, ahead of Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic. Before the 2010--11 season began he signed a reported $45.5 million deal to keep him in Boston for the next seven years.
Though Chara received another nomination for the Norris Trophy this year—he won the award in 2008--09—the season was a mix of highs and lows. On Jan. 17 he had the first hat trick of his career in a 7--0 win against the Hurricanes. To acknowledge the occasion, he mimicked the customary celebration of countryman Peter Bondra by pretending to throw a hat into the air.
But a defensive play later in the season scarred an otherwise exemplary reputation. In a March 8 game against the archrival Canadiens, Chara rode the Habs' Max Pacioretty into the boards, causing the Montreal forward's head to hit a padded stanchion between the benches that hockey players call the turnbuckle. Pacioretty sustained a concussion and a nondisplaced fracture of the fourth cervical vertebra, and though he was not paralyzed, his return to hockey remains uncertain. Chara received a game misconduct and a rare five-minute major for interference, but the victim of the hit felt that the punishment was not enough. "If other players see a hit like that and think they won't be suspended," Pacioretty later told TSN, "then other players will get hurt like I got hurt."
In declining to impose a suspension, NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy referenced Chara's pristine record, a striking and valid point for one of the league's largest, most rugged players.
Nevertheless the chorus of critics included Quebec premier Jean Charest, NHL stars Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton and two league sponsors. Montreal police even opened a criminal investigation into the incident. Rightly or wrongly, in the season of Rule 48 (the NHL's attempt at curtailing hits to the head), Chara's hit became a flash point for injury concerns well before Vancouver's Aaron Rome leveled Horton in the Stanley Cup finals.
"I understand the feelings about it," Chara says, "but I have to play my game. I have to do what is asked of me."
In the finals that was a little bit of everything. With his versatility, Chara was equipped for the heavy lifting needed in the playoffs, right up to the moment when, for the first time in 39 years, a Bruins captain hoisted the Stanley Cup.