MANCHESTER — For a couple hours Wednesday afternoon, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara became a playmate for dozens of local children.
Chara spent much of the afternoon playing air hockey as part of the “Big Z Challenge,” an annual fundraiser for a foundation associated with Elliot Hospital.
For the last nine years, Manchester dentist Bryan Hoertdoerfer has organized the event with Chara to raise money as the foundation works toward opening a regional cancer care center later this year.
Hoertdoerfer said Wednesday’s event brought in about $29,000, through a combination of sponsorships and ticket sales. Over the last nine years, he estimated the event with Chara has brought in more than $180,000.
Liz Fortier of Concord said her 11-year-old son was a little star-struck on Wednesday when Chara walked in — he went quiet, and couldn’t stop looking at him.
“He looks up to Chara,” Fortier said.
Many of the children who came to see Chara were members of the New Hampshire Junior Avalanche team.
The team was a sponsor of the event this year, said Lisa Karoul of Londonderry, the team’s manager, and mother of a player.
She liked the idea of the team having a part in funding the cancer care center. But for the children on the team, she said, the afternoon was all about Chara.
“Anything to do with hockey they’re excited to be part of,” she said.
Junior Avalanche head coach Bianca Moreau of Auburn said she was excited to see Chara being a regular person, and to have her young players see him that way too.
She was impressed with how much time he spent with the children — playing games, taking photos and signing jerseys.
“He’s literally been hanging out with the kids for over an hour,” Moreau said.
Assistant coach Adam Gianunzio of Hooksett said meeting Chara was a highlight of the year for the players. They won a state championship last week, he said, and were still looking forward to the afternoon with Chara.
Gianunzio went to last year’s event, and said it stuck with his children all year.
“Every game they would say, “I met Chara!’”