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Gulutzan praises Jagr's remarkable career

Flames coach recounts short stint with NHL's second all-time scorer

by Aaron Vickers @AAVickers / CalgaryFlames.com

CALGARY, AB -- He witnessed, up close, just a sliver of one of the most storied careers in the history of hockey. 

That splinter, as minuscule as it may have been, has already provided its fair share of anecdotes to reflect on. 

Those memories of Jaromir Jagr won't soon be forgotten. 

There's only one Jimmy, after all.

"Boy, he was a real treat to coach," started Glen Gulutzan, who transformed from National Hockey League coach to regale of tales from he and Jagr's 34-game partnership as members of the Dallas Stars during the shortened 2012-13 season.

"With Eric Nystrom … Eric is a throwback. He was raised in an NHL locker room and has a lot of pizzazz. He always brought energy to the rink. 

"For some reason, he nicknamed Jags in Dallas … he nicknamed him Jimmy. Jags wasn't Jags. It was Jimmy. 

"Eric played with him a little bit on his line at times. 

"In Dallas, he had his 1,000th assist, Jaromir did. 

"The lights are flashing on the board, '1,000! 1,000! 1,000!' 

"Of course, Ny isn't aware exactly that he got 1000 assists. He's sitting beside Jaromir and goes, 'Jimmy, do you have a thousand points now?' and he looks at Eric, almost disgusted, and goes, 'I had a thousand points 10 years ago. 

"'That's assists.' 

"It puts it in perspective. 'I had a thousand points 10 years ago.' 

"That just shows you how you how good the player was. 

"Jimmy."

Four years and 294 games have since passed since.

But Jagr and Gulutzan will meet again when the Calgary Flames host the Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday (7 p.m. MT; SNW, SN960). 

Much has changed. 

Most has stayed the same. 

Except Jagr's standing among hockey's all-time elite.

Jagr ranked eighth in NHL scoring at the time of his 1,000th assist, and 216 behind where he is today.

He now, of course, is second all-time with 1,895 points after a second-period assist on Dec. 23 pushed him ahead of former New York Rangers teammate Mark Messier and into sole possession of second place on that list. 

Jagr trails only Wayne Gretzky in that regard. 

Forty-five more goals and he'll surpass Gordie Howe's 801 to move into No. 2 on that scoring list, too -- again behind only Gretzky.

But those magic milestones aren't what drives the larger-than-life-living-legend. 

"It's not that I don't pay attention, but it's not my No. 1 goal," said Jagr, who turns 45 next month. "I always believed I had good enough talent and if I worked hard those numbers were going to come. 

"It's just a matter of time. 

"But once you concentrate on the numbers it's not going to come. You have to concentrate on something else and those numbers are going to show up if you work hard."

So what does push the seemingly ageless wonder to play well into his mid-40's and, dare he tease reporters and writers alike, into his 50's? 

 "It's everything," Jagr said. 

"It's a great lifestyle. You know, making a living with a game … it's a game. It's hard and we have to give up a lot, but it's still a game. There is no better living. 

"As a kid you want to play. Everybody wants to play. 

"We were pretty lucky. 

"Why try to change it?"

Jagr hasn't. 

But he has tried to adapt. 

To survive.

Playing well into his third decade of NHL hockey and long from his debut as a rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990, the Kladno, Czech Republic native knows that the goals, assists, points, longevity, and iconic status wouldn't exist without the understanding of who, what and where he's been. 

And where he still plans on going.

"That's important," he said. "You've got to adjust. 

"My style doesn't necessarily fit in the hockey that's being played right now. I have to be the one to adjust otherwise I'm not going to be playing.

"It doesn't matter what you did before … no matter if it works or not … you have to change it, because the game is changing. You cannot fight it. 

"The challenge coming through it, just to survive. Sometimes you have to put ego aside. 

"It's a big challenge for anybody. 

"I think that's probably the hardest thing for somebody who was kind of good before, is to put ego aside and adjust."

He's still adjusting. 

His legacy already cemented. 

A pair of Stanley Cups already to his name. 

A host of other awards -- including five Art Ross and three Lester B. Pearson trophies -- already on his mantle. 

A pile of records -- few likely to be challenged. 

And a lifetime of anecdotes to his lore. 

"He's been remarkable," Gulutzan said. 

"Just to go into his mindset … we were out on the ice one day and we brought up Jamie Oleksiak and I think he was 255 pounds, 6-foot-7.

Jaromir goes, 'back in my day there were a few guys like that but they couldn't skate and I'd just protect the puck and hammer on me but they couldn't skate.' 

"He goes, 'Now those big guys … ' and he's pointing to Jamie … 'can really skate.' 

"Then there was a pause for about 10 seconds before he goes, 'so I can't wait to try him out.'

"He saw this big, new, fresh piece of meat on the ice that could skate and he couldn't wait to get a piece of him and see how he was in a battle.

"It just goes to show he's competitive.

"Just to be able to coach him for a year and just see how good he was … and the passion there that's still for the game … I can see why he's done it."

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