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Chara motivated to make up for lost season

TORONTO -- When it comes to proud hockey players, Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara ranks at the top.

So, how does the 38-year-old defenseman rebound from the worst season of his career?

"I'm motivated," he said during the NHL's annual Player Media Tour.

Think about a 6-foot-9, 255-pound, 18-year veteran answering that while looking down at you. It was clear his comment wasn't just lip service.

After the Bruins failed to reach the playoffs last spring for the first time since the 2008-07 season, Boston's captain was banged up. He had suffered two significant injuries during the season. He tore his PCL early, returning in mid-December but never regaining his form. Then, he broke his ankle in a late-season game but continued to play as the Bruins were fighting for a playoff spot.

Missing the playoffs could be a blessing in disguise -- not only for Chara, but the entire Bruins team. The captain spent the summer rehabbing and said he feels ready to compete at a high level again.

"I feel healthy and strong -- that's the main and most important thing for me," Chara said. "Last season was a bad season. Game No. 9 I tore my PCL and missed the quarter of the season, and towards the end I fractured my ankle, so it was disappointing, but it's part of the game. You get hurt, but it's not an excuse. I had a good summer. I recovered and I feel strong, healthy and ready to go. I'm very motivated and obviously looking forward to setting new goals and achieving them."

In the past few seasons, the Bruins have attempted to manage Chara's ice time. He normally averages 25 minutes per game, but it has taken a toll on his body. If Bruins coach Claude Julien can figure out a way to limit those minutes, it could have a positive impact on Chara's game.

Without denying the inevitable, Chara wants to play effectively as long as he can. He's not thinking about retirement.

"I don't have a time on that," he said. "Obviously, I want to play for as long as I can and as long as I am healthy, but I feel really humbled to be in this league and compete against these players. I'm very hungry to achieve our goals and be where I was before I got hurt. I'm very motivated."

Chara and his teammates had plenty of time during the offseason to reflect on last season's disappointments. All season the Bruins were confident they would earn a playoff berth. It came down to the final day of the season, and even though the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Bruins in Game No. 82, a victory by the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the day already sealed Boston's fate.

"Very disappointing," Chara said. "We really believed we would make the playoffs. We played with a lot pressure on our shoulders [down the stretch] and it's something we should use as motivation for this upcoming season. Everybody was saying that sometimes these disappointments are meant to be and if you turn them inside out you should use it as big motivation for success. We all know we've got to make some changes, as far as the way we play, the way we want to gain our identity from the years that we were having success. We all know it's going to be a very important season for us."

The organization decided that changes needed to be made, too. Peter Chiarelli was fired and Don Sweeney was promoted. Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton were both traded, and new faces were brought in. Safe to say it's been an interesting offseason in Boston and the season shouldn't be any different.

"We all knew and were preparing it was going to happen, so that didn't come as a shock, but you are a little bit surprised when you see some moves. But that's the way it goes," Chara said. "They said they're going to go with it and I have to respect that."

While many feel that the Bruins are in rebuilding mode, ownership and upper management have denied that. Chara agrees.

"We're not rebuilding, but we have to bounce back. We've got to regain our identity back, playing with more energy, more passion and bringing that consistency every night and that's when we were on top of our game when we play with that edge."

But the Bruins lost a bit of that edge when it traded Milan Lucic to the Los Angeles Kings.

"Good point," Chara said. "It's no secret Looch is a big body, a big, strong player, if not one of the most dominant, physical forwards in the league. ... Playing the big, bad Bruins style doesn't always mean that you have to have big, strong and really physical guys. You can be measured by playing really competitive hockey every night, battling, competing and being hard to play against and that's how you gain the identity of the Bruins."

The Bruins and coach Claude Julien do have a defense-first mentality, so even losing young defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames will hurt Boston's blue line.

"Dougie's obviously a very talented player," Chara said. "He has the skill, being able to skate, and the way he can make plays offensively. He's going to be missed, but we have new players, new faces who will be battling for that spot and it's going to be really healthy competition during camp."

Unlike some seasons of the past, Chara is amped up for this one to start.