Thirty-eight-year-old Czech hockey star Jaromír Jágr is far from happy with the situation on the national team following the squad’s shock loss to Norway at the World Championship. Speaking to reporters afterwards, the key forward, who has played for the national squad on many occasions, was highly critical of key players who this year declined the World Championship in Germany. He suggested they should “kiss the behinds” of big-name players who had selflessly played for their country before.
A little earlier Jan Velinger spoke to Karel Knap, a sports editor and hockey specialist for the Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes, and asked him how he saw the developments.
“He was probably frustrated after the loss. When he arrived from Russia ahead of the tournament he was far less sharp in his choice of words, but now he sees that he was left alone with a bunch of young players. Eliáš, Vrbata, Tomáš Kabrle, all turned down invitations to play in Germany and in his view should have been there and should have played for their country. I can understand that these players are tired, that they have their own problems, but Jágr says – and I agree with him – that they shouldn’t forget where they learned to play hockey.”
Do you agree that newer players in the NHL or with a chance of making it in have benefited from earlier sacrifices, from people like Dopita or Reichl, who Jágr named?
“That’s a question and some will not agree with Jágr, but I do at least to a degree. The ‘golden years’ of Czech hockey in the NHL coincided with the national team’s successes, so I think Jágr is right – at least a little bit.”
How do you think the Czech Republic compares to some of the other teams at the championship when it comes to fielding better players?
“I think that the problems faced by the Finns are comparable to those of the Czechs and that they have the same problem with the old and new generation. They used to have key players like Saku Koivu or Teemu Selanne who usually played for Finland at World Championships. But they are too old now and too tired. They are waiting for younger players to get stronger and become better players. They have very few NHL players on their roster now. Canada also had some problems getting players to agree to the World Championship in Germany. One factor is that this was an Olympic year. Every four years, when the Winter Olympics are held, it means that the World Championship is simply not the No. 1 first-class tournament.”