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GOTTA SEE IT: Viel Fights Chara, Marleau Pays Tribute on Big Z’s Record-Breaking Night

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Credit: AP Photo/Josie Lepe

It’s not every day an NHLer breaks a record, but if you’re Zdeno Chara, it’s business as usual. With such an illustrious career as his, record-breaking is par for the course. 

The New York Islanders’ season has been anything but idyllic, but Chara, who was drafted by the Islanders in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft and rejoined the team on a one-year deal this season, is making the best of it. 

Chara’s tilt against the San Jose Sharks marked his 1,652nd regular-season game (add 200 more for a number that includes the post-season) – the most by any defenseman. Chara passed Chris Chelios to claim that record, and while his career may be slowing down, he still has the rest of the season to pad onto his record. 

It’s an incredible record to set – the NHL wreaks havoc on a players’ physical, mental, and emotional health, and to have the ability to play in so many regular-season games, especially with the sort of mythic quality Chara has, is remarkable, not to mention he’s doing it at 44 years old.

There’s been an outpouring of congratulations from around the hockey community, including a scoreboard message from San Jose Sharks legend Patrick Marleau, All-Time Games Played record holder at 1,779. 

“It’s a classy act,” Chara said of the unexpected Marleau video tribute. “Thank you so much for the video. He’s obviously known for his longevity throughout his career.”

His accomplishment has prompted current and former players to reminisce on facing Chara across the ice, including San Jose Sharks head coach Bob Boughner, who played against Chara from 1997 to 2006: “[He was] too big for me. Too big of a tree to climb.”

Jeffrey Viel had no such qualms on Chara’s big night. 

After a eventful first period — Viel recorded four hits and an assist — the 6-foot-2 winger dropped the mitts for what was a short-lived fight between himself and the 6-foot-9 Chara in the second period.

According to New York Islanders head coach Barry Trotz, Chara “got involved with someone who was acting up a little bit.”

“That was something to see,” Boughner laughed.

Chara, who has been known to stand up for his teammates but also pull his punches on the younger kids, gave the 25-year-old a pat on the helmet after he wrestled him to the ice. It also set another record for Chara; he’s now the oldest NHL player to earn a fighting major.

Viel earned himself a story and five minutes in the penalty box. Apparently, it was Chara who asked to dance.

“I thought maybe he wanted to get his team going…he didn’t say a reason, but I rarely say no,” said Viel jovially.

Viel got his team going too, teammate Jake Middleton made sure to note: “For Vieler to say yes and go with a guy who’s that big, just gives us some life on the bench.”

Besides the well-received congratulatory head tap from Chara, Viel thought he held his own.

“I thought I did pretty good,” Viel said. “He’s pretty tall so it was hard to reach him.”

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