Future Hall of Famer, Stanley Cup Champion, and Hockey Legend Jaromir Jagr did an interview with The Hockey News. The subsequent article detailed his decision to continue to play hockey in the Czech Republic. While that might not sound so interesting to the uninformed sports fan, there’s a reason why Jagr’s continuance of his hockey career is so newsworthy.
Jaromir Jagr is about to turn 50 years old.
Playing for the Kladno Knights might not seem like such a big deal either. Older players play in Europe during the twilight of their careers all the time. But for Jaromir Jagr, the choice is personal. The Kladno Knights are Jagr’s hometown team, a team his father owned, and a team he now owns and plays for.
Jagr had initially played for the Knights during the 2014 NHL Lockout, but he made the arrangement official in 2018, after being placed on waivers by the Calgary Flames at age 45, ending his 24 year NHL career. However, after bringing Kladno back to the Czech’s top hockey league, Extraliga, a year after their relegation, Jagr is still lacing them up.
“Do you know why I’m still playing? I have a responsibility to the club, otherwise, I wouldn’t fly here and I wouldn’t be making a fool of myself.” Call it bravado or stupidity, Jagr then paints a different picture of why he needs to keep taking the ice.
“If I quit, the partners and sponsors would leave and the club may be done. I have no choice. People don’t understand it, but I don’t care. Only God will judge me. I expect much more from myself, and I also believe that I have it in me.”
“It’s not easy anymore, believe me,” Jagr added to The Hockey News. “Because mostly during my career, I felt that if I wanted to score a goal, I would score. But suddenly, this doesn’t work… At the same time, people still expect it from me, and that’s probably the worst feeling when people think I can but I know I can’t. Plus, I can’t even tell them. I just know that I will do my best to help the club.”
But just when you think it’s hometown pride that keeps Jagr in Kladno, he adds one more layer to his situation.
“I don’t know if anyone can understand my role. I don’t even want to be in such a position, but I have no choice. As long as my father breathes, I take the club as my responsibility. He held it for 20 years. As a son, I would be embarrassed if I left.”
While it may seem Jaromir Jagr simply refuses to hang up his skates, the picture begins to resemble something else. A son, following in the footsteps of his father, working to keep his father’s team alive. How can one man carry so much on his back when he’s battling knee injuries at the end of a career no one thought he’d continue? Jagr just does it. There is no choice. He just does.
When Jaromir Jagr came to the Bruins in 2013, I was excited to watch a legend play for the team I loved. There’s something special about watching Jagr play hockey. It’s like watching Picasso paint. No one put it better than the man himself. “Mostly during my career, I felt that if I wanted to score a goal, I would score.” And that was very true in 2013, as Jagr was heading into the season at 40 years old. But while he lived up to the hype during games, it was after games that Jagr went above and beyond.
Seeing pictures of Jagr skating after games was almost shocking. Here was the oldest member of the Bruins, after playing a full NHL game against kids half his age, taking to the ice with a weighted vest, pushing himself even further. Jagr seemed to be one of those people who would “walk through hell in a gasoline suit” to play hockey. And now, almost ten years later, Jaromir Jagr is truly pushing himself to the limits of what his body can do.
But this time, it’s not for a team, or a city, but for his father.
I used to think that Jagr was just waiting for his legs to give out in order to retire. That his health and longevity on the ice were a burden. How do you tell a man to stop skating when that’s the only thing that keeps them going? But now it feels like Jagr’s work is not finished. Finally, I’m beginning to understand what Jagr was training himself for in all those post-game skates.
Jaromir Jagr was preparing himself to keep pushing, even when he had nothing left. And while he may think that “People don’t understand it.” I think he’d be surprised to know that more might than he’s aware.
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