There's no denying the skill of Jaromir Jagr. But something people either ignore or don't know about is the man's work ethic.
When we were teammates with the Rangers for two seasons, between 2005 and 2007, we also lived in the same building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We didn't commute to and from the rink every day (he carpooled a lot with Petr Prucha), but we drove to and from the practice facility in Greenburgh together sometimes. I got to know him pretty well. He's a different guy -- a somewhat spiritual guy -- but his willingness to work was unrivaled.
Going back to his days in Pittsburgh when he was a teenager, Jagr always was the first guy on the ice. It's easy to assume someone with his talent at that young age might be cocky and act as though he has everything figured out, but that wasn't the case then.
During practices with the Rangers, Jagr usually was the last guy to leave the ice. And even after he left the ice, he would just come back on the ice again after taking off his hockey gear and changing into a track suit. He'd spend hours taking shots on me. He'd ask me how his shot looked. If I told him the puck wasn't coming off his stick hot or the right way, he'd stay there and keep working.
A lot of times, even that wouldn't be the end of it.
There are some players who work out at the practice facility for show, but not only was Jagr a guy who stayed late and worked out and did his own thing, there were times he'd take the 45-minute drive back to the practice facility at night when no one was around and work out and practice some more. The guy is a special player.
When it comes to elite athletes in any sport, whether it's Jagr in hockey or Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Kobe Bryant in basketball, that's the reason why they stay where they are for so long. While Jagr was sneaking workouts in the middle of the night in Westchester County, a guy like Kobe will have a basketball court built in his mansion. Jordan and Bird were renowned for their willingness to stay late and work on their games. Jordan actually was the first guy to build a gym at his home, and he took the time to learn his patented fade-away jumper from Hakeem Olajuwon. Extra effort usually is a theme with great athletes.
That type of player can be infectious for younger players. They see a guy like Jagr busting his tail in practice after winning all his awards and Stanley Cups and they want to do the same thing. There's nothing bad about having a guy like that on your team, even at the age of 39.
Jagr currently is the ninth-leading scorer in NHL history, with 1,603 points. When he left the NHL three years ago to play in Russia, people on the outside might've thought Jagr was at his end after scoring just 71 points. But that had nothing to do with his desire and willingness to put in the extra work. He was all about that. Playing in Russia was something he felt he needed to do. He's a different cat, and some might think he's not team-oriented because he keeps to himself.
But that's absolutely not the case. I'm just glad I didn't have to be the one who drove him from Manhattan to Westchester when he got the itch to work out in the middle of the night.