As the Penguins retire his jersey, Jagr at 52 is still going strong on his Czech hometown team

In the Czech Republic town of KLADNO, the iconic mullet is a thing of the past, and although Jaromir Jagr may not possess the speed of his youth, his on-ice movements defy his age, conjuring memories of his illustrious NHL days.

Demonstrating strength on the puck, resilience by the boards, precision in passing, and an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, Jagr, turning 52 this Thursday, showcased his enduring skills in a recent training session with his hometown club, Kladno. In a dual role as player and owner, Jagr is in his 36th professional ice hockey season.

Taking a brief hiatus from the Czech league, he will travel to Pittsburgh, where he gained NHL fame, for the retirement ceremony of his No. 68 Penguins jersey on Sunday. Quickly returning to the Czech Republic, Jagr will prepare for Kladno Knights’ upcoming game, as they grapple with the challenge of being in last place after a 17-game losing streak in the domestic league.

Jagr, in a rare interview with The Associated Press after practice in Kladno, acknowledged the physical demands of playing at his age. Despite the toll, a sense of responsibility to the team, facing potential relegation from the Czech league, propels him forward.

Seated in a skybox overlooking Kladno’s recently renovated arena, Jagr expressed his obligation to the fans, the town, and the club. Kladno, once a hockey powerhouse in Cold War-era Czechoslovakia, produced NHL players like Frantisek Kaberle Jr., Tomas Kaberle, and Jakub Voracek. However, Jagr’s impact surpassed all, winning two Stanley Cups with the Penguins and accumulating more NHL points than anyone except Wayne Gretzky.

Jagr debuted for Kladno at 16 in 1988 and later moved to Pittsburgh in 1990. Winning the Calder Trophy in 1991, he played a pivotal role in the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup victories. His illustrious NHL career featured 766 regular-season goals (fourth all-time), 1,921 points, five Art Ross Trophies, and one Hart Trophy.

After a lengthy stint in Pittsburgh, Jagr was traded to Washington in 2001, beginning a 16-year journey as an NHL nomad. Returning to Kladno to conclude his career, Jagr, now the team’s owner, finds solace in playing amidst administrative challenges, considering it a respite.

Jagr’s commitment to the game astounds his teammates. Kladno forward Jaromir Pytlik notes Jagr’s late departure after morning training and early arrival before afternoon sessions, joking that he might sleep at the arena. Michael Frolik, who played with Jagr in the NHL, lauds his dedication and views him as a role model for younger players.

Despite questions about Jagr’s performance as Kladno’s owner amid the team’s poor results, fans delight in seeing him on the ice, even with a slower point accumulation rate – four assists in 15 games this season.

To supporters like Kamil Stipek, wearing Jagr’s No. 68 jersey, Jagr symbolizes absolute commitment to sport. He sees Jagr as a Czech counterpart to Gordie Howe, having surpassed the Canadian great’s goal tally after turning 40.

Approaching 52, Jagr shows no signs of quitting, even as his jersey ascends to the rafters in Pittsburgh – a “huge honor” he attributes to the love of the game rather than trophies. Jagr acknowledges that once he retires, the world moves on, but he hopes that future spectators in Pittsburgh will look up and remember that Jaromir Jagr once played there.