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Zdeno Chara, all 6 feet 9 nine of him, is the largest of Lowell's Lock Monsters

Thursday, October 15, 1998
Sun Staff

LOWELL -- The tallest player in National Hockey League history is hoping to make a short stay in Lowell.

No offense, Lock Monsters fans.

But defenseman Zdeno Chara (pronounced Zuh-DAY-no CHAR-uh) got a 25-game taste of NHL life last season with the New York Islanders, and he wants more.

Chara was born in Trencin, Czechoslovakia, weighs 255 pounds, listens to Nirvana, and loves to watch movies, especially non-violent ones with solid plots.

And, on yeah, he stands 6-foot-9, 7 feet when he laces up his skates. To put that into perspective, the NBA world champion Chicago Bulls had only 7-footers last season (and that's if you consider Joe Kleine and Luc Longley worth counting).

"I think he's grown an inch over the summer," according to Lock Monsters teammate Warren Luhning, who spent part of last season with Chara in Kentucky of the American Hockey League.

Chara, 21, rebukes the claim that he is now 6-10, saying the soles of his current shoes are thicker than they were: "I think I'm (still) 6-9."

Chara was one of the Islanders' final cuts, joining Lowell just two days before the franchise's inaugural game last Friday.

"It hurts a little bit, yeah," he said. "But I didn't have a very good camp. I played OK. It's not over. I can get called up and show everybody that I can play."

Chara doesn't mind talking about being pro hockey's tallest player; he's been bombarded with height questions since being drafted by the Islanders in 1996.

"I'm used to it," the gregarious Chara said. "I went to the movies once and I asked for a ticket to the movie. The lady said, 'I don't know if I have a big enough ticket for you.' It was really funny."

His father stands 6-1, his mother 6-0, so he's not sure where he gets his height from. But the one-time center isn't done growing.

"My body's starting to fill out," he said, adding that he weighed 230 pounds two years ago.

It's difficult to ignore Chara when he's on the ice. During last weekend's games against Portland and New Haven, he was the guy slamming opponents behind the Lock Monsters net.

Yes, it's tough to blend in when you're 6-foot-9.

"No, no pressure at all," he said when asked if he feels everyone in the building is looking at him when he jumps over the boards for a shift. "If someone comes in and scores on me, everyone seems that I'm on the ice. But if nobody ever made a mistake, every game would be zero-zero."

On the ice, Chara can be nasty. He racked up 120 penalty minutes in 49 games during the Western Hockey League's 1996-97 season, and last season spent a combined 175 in the box between the Islanders and Kentucky.

"(Opponents) come out onto the ice and see a person 7 feet on skates -- that's a little intimidating," Lock Monsters forward Steve Webb said. "Forwards are thinking: How am I going to beat this guy? They have high expectations for him in New York. He's 21 years old. He has a time before he's in the National Hockey League for a long time."

"He's breaking a lot of barriers. Guys that big aren't supposed to be playing hockey. If he makes it to the NHL, maybe a lot of guys who would be playing basketball will play hockey," said Luhning.

Once he takes off his specially-ordered equipment -- his size 60 goalie cut uniform is bigger than even Lowell's goaltenders, with all their equipment, wear -- Chara becomes another person.

"They know I'm on the ice, but I don't think they are scared," he said. "It's up to them what they think. I'm just trying to play tough. Off the ice I like to have fun. I like movies that really make you think. I don't like movies where they start out shooting and shooting."

If Chara gets his wish, he'll be having fun on Long Island this winter. If the Lock Monsters get their wish, the gentle giant will be smiling -- and hitting -- in Lowell.

NOTES: Lowell has sent goaltender Steve Valiquette down to the East Coast Hockey League to get some work. Marcel Cousineau and Mark McArthur, who split the first two games, are the team's goalies. ... Lock Monsters head coach Frank Anzalone met yesterday with his players about a lack of on-ice discipline.

Lowell is last in the AHL in penalty killing (56.25 success rate). The Lock Monsters have allowed 7 power play goals in 16 chances. Anzalone said penalty killing will be stressed all week prior to tomorrow's game in Portland, Maine.