If anyone in the Bruins’ dressing room was ready for this kind of physical challenge, it would be Zdeno Chara.
“That’s something I would enjoy,” he said, entertaining the idea of fighting the mixed martial artist and former Ultimate Fighting champion Conor McGregor.
After the Bruins’ 2-1 overtime win over Columbus, the Globe posed this question: How would Boston’s behemoth captain fare against the mixed martial arts star in a fantasy match?
Big Z is in McGregor’s corner, especially after the Irish brawler became a Bruins fan on St. Patrick’s Day weekend. McGregor celebrated with the team before and after Saturday’s game, before reportedly attending Sunday’s green-splashed festivities in South Boston.
But imagine, for a second, those two standing toe-to-toe in the Octagon.
McGregor, smaller than Johnny Gaudreau, has a sobering amount of lightning in his limbs. Chara would be a Goliath unlike any on his previous fight card: at 6 feet, 9 inches and 250 pounds, roughly a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier. As hard as Chara hits, he is not exclusively a fighter, and is 12 years older. A gambler might be convinced to lay stacks on McGregor, a world-class competitor at the top of his game.
Chara might last a few rounds, though. He is hockey’s reigning heavyweight champ, in recent years, by default. Even when the NHL was a fight-friendly league, few, if any, could take the largest player in league history. These days, he is rarely bothered.
Plus, Chara learned Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling from his father, Zdenek, who competed for Czechoslovakia and later coached the Slovak national team. The younger Chara used to test himself against his father’s national team competitors, and still does when he returns to Slovakia in the offseason.
McGregor became aware of these facts on Saturday.
“Yeah, we actually joked about it,” Chara said. “I told him my dad was a Greco-Roman wrestler, and that I wrestle every summer.”
He chuckled at the thought of battling McGregor.
“Hah. He would obviously have the upper hand,” Chara said. “That’s his profession. His grappling, and overall, his game is the best in the world. That’s why he’s the champ.”
Maybe being in The Notorious One’s presence stirred something in Chara, who turns 42 on Monday. Maybe once he’s done playing hockey, whenever that day arrives, he will trade skates for bare feet and hockey’s protective armor for his two gloved fists.
Zdeno Chara, MMA moonlighter?
A man of many interests, he conceded he has considered it.
“It would be just an honor to wrestle and grapple a little bit in the Octagon,” Chara said. “That would be fun. That’s something I grew up with, watching my dad and doing a lot of that as a part of my conditioning, and working out in the summer. That’s something I would enjoy.”
Chara’s desire to play hockey remains strong. He is still a highly effective defenseman for the Bruins (43-20-9), whose win over Columbus maintained a 4-point edge on Toronto for second place in the Atlantic (and home ice in an eventual Leafs-Bruins first-round playoff series). Chara plays 21 hard minutes a night, forms a No. 1 pair with rising star Charlie McAvoy, and maintains the unending respect of everyone on Causeway Street.
But his teammates would line up to purchase ringside seats for Chara-McGregor I, should it ever occur. One of them even gave the captain a puncher’s chance.
“He’s got height. He can wrestle. He’s got long arms. I don’t know,” netminder Jaroslav Halak said, after a lengthy sigh to consider the question. “[McGregor’s] just fast. He’s tiny, but he’s fast as hell. That’s why he’s so good. [Chara] can still move. It’s tough to say. But it would be fun to see.”
OK, score that round for McGregor. How about, say, a mid-20s Chara, or however you’d define his peak of physical performance, crossed with the mental capacity of the 21-year NHL veteran?
“With their same abilities and skills? Whew,” winger Brad Marchand said, pausing before going with, “McGregor. He’s so quick. He’s so fast. I mean, I love Big Man. He’s a tough mother. But that’s a losing battle right there.”
It stands to reason, given his stature, strength, and seasoning, that Chara could make McGregor submit if he got his hands on him. McGregor might be the pride of Ireland, but Chara fared well against those Slovak Olympians, and he probably still knows a punishing hold or two . . .
“Ah, I dunno,” said Marchand, a McGregor fan. “Their skills are so incredible. They can get out of situations most people can’t. But Big Man is a scary dude.”
■ Chara gave McGregor his proper due, noting he “gave us a little emotional boost” with his fiery pregame words, and was pleased to see him greet Bruins family members at their TD Garden quarters. “Obviously very grateful he took time out of his busy schedule and came down and really showed, um, maybe a side fans aren’t really used to seeing,” Chara said. “That’s very nice of him.”
■ Frustrated by Charlie Coyle wiring a golden David Krejci setup wide of the net on Saturday? Irritated that Danton Heinen doesn’t finish as often as he did last year? Remember that David Pastrnak and Marcus Johansson are likely to return by the end of this week. As soon as they (and Jake DeBrusk) shed any rust, the Bruins can match anyone’s top six forwards. Coyle and Heinen could form an effective third line, with a rotating cast of Joakim Nordstrom (better than the numbers show, in this opinion) and David Backes (still useful in stretches).
■ Bruce Cassidy has been shortening his bench of late, clearly striving for home-ice. Nordstrom played south of 10 minutes Saturday, and both Backes and Noel Acciari were sub-8:00. Marchand and Krejci were north of 21:00. DeBrusk, in his first game back from injury, skated 19:32. On D, with Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, and Matt Grzelcyk out, Charlie McAvoy has skated above 27 minutes the last two games.
■ Rookie defenseman Connor Clifton earned a promotion Saturday, his usage jumping from 12 minutes to nearly 17. He also saw Columbus’s top line from the second period on, on the left side of fellow righty Brandon Carlo. Clifton hadn’t played the left side before. “[He] was talking to me so it was pretty easy,” said Clifton, who focused his efforts on “sitting back and trying to play solid defense.” Before puck drop, Cassidy said he asked Clifton before the game if he had ever played left D: “If you want to play in the National Hockey League you’re going to have to, basically, tonight.”
■ Why did Marchand try to fight Columbus’s Pierre-Luc Dubois in the first period? “He was whacking Bergy [Patrice Bergeron],” said Marchand, who was separated from Dubois by a linesman. “You don’t touch Bergy like that.”
■ A few Blue Jackets were displeased with the TD Garden’s ice quality after the OT loss, which came hours after a Celtics home game. “It was terrible,” Matt Duchene said. “It was like pond ice back home in March. Probably shouldn’t have even been skating on it.” Those kind of quotes typically emerge from one dressing room, not both.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports