By Sean Hartnett
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At 41, Jaromir Jagr enters the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals sporting a graying, grizzled beard and wearing a “borrowed” famous uniform of the “Original Six” Boston Bruins. It’s almost like the 41-year-old decided to rent a tux and crash his son’s high school prom, considering that he’s old enough to be the father of teammates Tyler Seguin, Dougie Hamilton and Torrey Krug.
ONE LAST DANCE FOR NUMBER 68?
In all likelihood, that Bruins jersey he’s wearing is a rental, and odds are that this will be his last dance at the Stanley Cup Finals. Then again, who knows? Jagr’s career has been full of unforeseen and unexpected twists and turns. He never expected to be a Bruin when the trade deadline neared.
“Well, to be honest, I was shocked to get traded,” Jagr revealed at Stanley Cup media day in Chicago on Tuesday. “I thought I was going to stay in Dallas. It was kind of a last-minute decision from the management. I don’t think many teams knew I was going to get traded. So, when they met me that morning, the Dallas management told me I going to get traded, and it was up to me if I wanted to go or not.”
When Jagr received the call from the Bruins, he wanted assurances that he was, in fact, the man that they wanted to help realize their Stanley Cup ambitions.
“When I talked to the (Boston) boss, I asked him like three times: Are you sure you want me?,” he explained. “They said, ‘Yeah.’ So here I am.”
Time hasn’t diminished Jagr’s feverous love for the sport of hockey. He still approaches the game with the unbridled enthusiasm that he did as a fresh-faced 18-year-old rookie who entered the league with a trademark flowing mullet.
It’s doesn’t matter what hairstyle he’s sporting, how old his driver’s license says he is or what uniform he’s wearing. Jagr is, well, still Jagr — and he’s more determined than ever to add a third Stanley Cup ring to his collection.
The goal has never changed and neither has his inspirational work ethic, which has only become more dedicated with time. Throughout the playoffs, Jagr has taken to the TD Garden ice after games in a weighted vest and on weighted skates.
That’s why we love Jagr. It’s impossible not to like Jagr. Even the most jilted Penguins fan still loves him. They might not admit it, especially after the unusual circumstances that led to Jagr pulling on the jersey of the rival Philadelphia Flyers in 2011 as opposed to taking less money to complete a storybook return to the Penguins. Deep down though, they still love him.
‘THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE’
Do you remember the 1986 cult fantasy movie, “Highlander?” Yeah, Jagr’s career is kind of like the life of protagonist Connor MacLeod, who, as an immortal who lived from 1518 to modern times, battled other immortals throughout time for “The Prize.”
“You have 30 teams,” Jagr stated. “They’ve all got one goal — to win the Cup. They all do maximum for that. Only one can do it”
Wait a minute — did Jagr almost quote “Highlander”? You remember, right? Immortals would shout, “There can be only one” before beheading an enemy and receiving their power and knowledge.
JAGR’S BEEN EVERYWHERE, MAN
Jagr, the immortal, has lived many lives in his long and distinguished career. The first was “Mario Jr.” A youthful Jagr burst onto the scene in 1990, captivating fans in every arena. He teamed with the legendary Mario Lemieux and the high-flying Penguins teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.
Then, after Lemieux’s retirement, the Penguins became Jagr’s team. He was the new face of the franchise and was handed down the captaincy from future Hall of Famer Ron Francis as Pittsburgh suffered financial difficulties. His dominance entered new heights as he won the Hart Trophy in 1999.
Lemieux sensationally returned from retirement in 2000, and the barely-surviving Penguins could only afford only one of their salaries. Jagr found himself in our nation’s capital in 2001.
From that point on, Jagr has become a traveling wander, a bit like the song made famous by Johnny Cash — “I’ve Been Everywhere.” Jagr’s journey has taken him to Washington, New York, Pittsburgh, HC Klando of the Czech Republic — his hometown club — and Russia’s Avangard Omsk during the 2004-05 lockout. He came back to Madison Square Garden once the NHL returned in 2005, where he put up a sensational 123-point season. Jagr followed Mark Messier as captain of the Rangers between 2006-2008.
Then Jagr traveled back to Omsk to spend three years in the KHL before opting to return to the NHL, oddly as a member of the Flyers before the recent lockout. During the lockout, Jagr returned home to Kladno before signing on with the Dallas Stars and being dealt to the contending Boston Bruins at the trade deadline. That move followed their failure to land Jarome Iginla, who forced his way to the Penguins.
Bruins’ general Manager Peter Chiarelli must be laughing in delight at how things ended up working out in his favor. Iginla largely struggled throughout the playoffs, whereas Jagr caught fire during the Eastern Conference finals as the Bruins swept Pittsburgh to set up an “all-Original Six” Stanley Cup Finals with the Blackhawks.
Jagr’s latest stop is Boston, and we’re all out of breath reading this. But at 41, Jagr is still standing, and he’s still loved by fans from coast to coast throughout the United States and Canada.
“You guys still surprised I am alive? Well, I’m alive,” a smiling Jagr joked at media day.
He’s even inspired a group of eight mullet-wearing men from Calgary known as “The Traveling Jagrs,” who dress in jerseys from different periods of his career. They traveled from arena to arena to watch Jagr play in 2012-13. They inducted their eighth member, Shane, by forcing him to compete in interviews and a shootout, and they made him get down on one knee while presenting him with a mullet wig.
Jagr predicted that his famous mullet look might return to the NHL one day.
“Well, you know, when I had the long hair I wouldn’t say it was a style, but I wasn’t the only one who had it,” he remembered. “There was a lot of guys, maybe not that long, but a lot of guys wearing long hair. Now it’s a different style. But it’s going to come back. Everything is just coming back. 10 years later, you’ll see a lot of guys with long
JAGR ON THE BLACKHAWKS: ‘THEY’RE QUICK, SO TALENTED UP FRONT AND QUICK ON DEFENSE’
As for his current task, Jagr knows what the Blackhawks are all about, and he was impressed while battling them in the Western Conference as a member of the Dallas Stars earlier this season.
“Well, when we played them in Dallas, I thought they were the best team in that conference, for sure,” Jagr stated. “They played different hockey than any other teams in that conference. They’re quick, so talented up front and quick on defense.”
If Jagr is to lift Lord Stanley for a third time, he and the Bruins will have to topple a highly-dominant Blackhawks team that made last year’s Stanley Cup-champion Kings appear ordinary. Chicago possesses an incredibly deep roster led by standout talents Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith. Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw are emerging talents.
Again, there can be only one, and it would be fitting to see Jagr holding the Stanley Cup above his head over a Blackhawks team that he defeated to lift the Cup in 1992.
“Everybody has the same goal again and again and again, and 20 years later I’m here,” Jagr said while playfully rolling his eyes at the media.
Jagr’s wait to return to the finals has taken him 21 years. Here’s to hoping that he makes the most of his opportunity and turns back the clock by making a big impact, now that’s he back in the big dance.
Who knows where Jagr’s path will lead him next. For now, let’s just enjoy the fact that one of hockey’s all-time entertaining players has, perhaps, one last shot to lift the Cup.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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