Doug Houda, these days a Bruins assistant coach, was there from the start. It was a long time ago, early in the 1997-98 NHL season, but Houda remembers those early days on Long Island with that humongous, gangly kid from Slovakia trying to find his place in the game.

But it wasn't so much Zdeno Chara's 6-foot-9-inch frame that everyone was talking about in those days with the Islanders. It was how the unknown kid from Trencin with the perpetual smile went about his work.

"We just knew he had the world ahead of him, the way he worked,'' said Houda, who later that season was traded to the Ducks, in part because Chara became an instant fixture on the Islander blue line.