Czech hockey legend Jaromír Jágr is headed home after being placed on waivers by the Calgary Flames. The early return spells the end of his career in the National Hockey League, in what he said himself was 99.9 percent his final season. Now he will play for his hometown team, HC Kladno.
Most Czech hockey fans or even hockey fans in general probably would have wanted Jaromír Jágr’s storied career in the NHL to end a little differently: with a proper send off after a final game, even better had it been in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Unfortunately, the legendary player’s last bid, with the Calgary Flames, was marred by injury.
Just one season before Jágr had played all 82 games with the Florida Panthers and had earned a respectable 46 points – 16 goals and 30 assists – not bad for a forward who was playing in the NHL when the rest of his teammates were either in nappies or not even born.
Last autumn, Jágr was welcomed with great enthusiasm by Calgary Flames fans, including the Travelling Jags, dedicated to following the player from game to game wearing not only Jágr jerseys but wigs celebrating his famous 1990s mullet. Somewhat prophetically, the player joked in an interview where he showed up unexpectedly to surprise his fans that if things didn’t work out in Calgary at least he would stay and party.
Well they didn’t and the party’s over now, sooner than most had hoped. When the stats are added up, of course, nothing takes away from the fact that the player, who turns 46 in a fortnight, is a legend, one of the best to have ever played the game, second only to the Great One Wayne Gretzky on points, third on all-time goals, behind Gretzky and “Mr Hockey” Gordie Howe.
Profiles over the last few years by online publications and dailies such as the New York Times and Fivethirtyeight focussed on the player’s tireless work ethic and continued efforts to improve, something fans brought up in internet discussions at late as Monday. There were many out there hoping that another NHL team would still snap up No. 68 not only for inspiration for younger players but for his continuing power when holding the puck and danger when in the zone.
With the Flames, in the 22 games he was healthy, Jágr never really found his scoring touch though as he had in Florida. With Calgary he scored just one goal against fellow countryman Petr Mrázek in net for Detroit (he said at the time the first goal with any team was special – who knew it would be the only one).
“And he finds Gaudreau… two-on-one with Jágr… Gadreau and Jágr… Jágr…SCORES! His first as a Calgary Flame!”
In the same game against Detroit, Jágr assisted on Mark Jankowski’s first-ever NHL goal, which rebounded off the player’s leg into the net. Jankowski said that for Jágr to have assisted on the goal was a moment he would never forget.
One consolation is that while Jágr may be leaving the NHL, his fans know he isn’t hanging up his skates yet. He is returning to his hometown Kladno outside of Prague to play for HC Kladno aka. the Kladno Knights, a team where he is co-owner. Fans already welcoming him home online, will be hoping to see him in action for at least a few more seasons to come since he himself has joked before that he hoped to play until 50.
Through it all, Jágr has maintained his humour. After the news was announced, he posted a comic photo vignette of him and his girlfriend Veronika Kopřivová talking on the phone, in which he tells her to pack her bags for Venice. The joke is that the word for Venice in Czech is Benátky. She thinks they are headed for Italy, but he means Benátky nad Jizerou, a town in the Czech Republic where Kladno is playing Saturday (it has turned out since that the match will be in Liberec, but you get the idea).
Jágr’s jokes – and his trademark grin – are so familiar it seems they will be missed in no time at all in the NHL.