When Jaromír Jágr began playing in the NHL at 18 with rock star hair (which later prompted the slogan Fear the mullet) back in 1990, few knew the talented player would still be playing more than a quarter of a century later. Not only that, but that he would be one of the best to have ever played the game, behind only the Great One Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe on goals. Jágr turned 45 on Wednesday and the future Hall of Famer is showing no signs of slowing down.
Jaromír Jágr is a legend not only in his homeland Czech Republic but around the world, one the greatest players to have ever played the sport of hockey. At 45, Jágr’s records are almost too many to list. The most prominent include his second spot on all time NHL productivity and third-spot on goals, behind only Gordie Howe and Gretzky. Then there are the two Stanley Cup rings with his first NHL team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, two World Championship titles with the Czech squad and an Olympic Gold medal from Nagano ’98, where the Czechs pipped Team Canada and the Russian Federation for gold.
“We are opening the golden gate of the Olympic tournament, we are the Olympic Champions! Rewrite history: the Czech Republic has won the Olympic ice hockey tournament!”
The Czechs’ triumph in Japan sparked the slogan “Hašek na Hrad” (Hašek for President) referring of course to the great goalie Dominik Hašek; but today it is Jágr who is still listed by Czech betting agencies as a possible president (albeit, a long shot, the odds are around 680 to 1). Nagano was a major milestone and the then 26-year-old forward and his teammates knew it. Here’s what Jágr said in one of his first interviews after the triumph:
“The feeling is super, it’s perfect! When I left for the NHL at 18, I ruled out ever taking part in a World Championship or the Winter Olympics and suddenly there was this opportunity. And we won! So it’s amazing!”
Next year will be the 20th anniversary of that historic win, yet Jágr is still going strong in the NHL, a testimony both to his incredible talent and dedication. His fitness regimen, said to include interval training with a 16-kilo vest and around the clock access to Florida Panthers strength and conditioning coach Tommy Powers, has been reported by everyone from the sports news site Stack to the New York Times. Those who know Jágr say he was always dedicated to remaining in the best possible shape and the player himself has indicated he wants to play until 50. Florida Panthers CEO Matt Caldwell recently also reflected on that fact:
“[He wants to play] until he’s 50, I know, I know. In the past we offered him a multi-year deal but he said ‘No, let’s take it one year at a time’. So that’s what we’re doing.”
There has been speculation of late the Czech legend could have one more transfer left, this time to the incoming NHL team, the Vegas Golden Knights. Could Vegas be in the cards for one of hockey’s greatest legends? Jágr himself admitted to enjoying gambling back in 1999:
“I was a gambler. (laughs) But I’m not such a passionate gambler anymore. I like excitement, fast cars, betting, where things are in the balance, an edge where things can go one way or the other. That’s exciting.”
Whether he stays with Panthers or heads to another NHL team, most fans will be happy for Jágr just to continue playing. They are also happy that at 45, the legend has remained at the top of his game: he scored more than 50 points in 2015-16 and this year appears on route to the same. Who would have gambled on that, 27 years ago?