40 for 40: Memories of Jagr as he turns 40 years old
Growing up in the Czech Republic in the 1990s, Jakub Voracek was like most of the kids he knew. They were all big hockey fans, and they almost all shared the same favorite player -- Jaromir Jagr.
"He was the best player in the world, from the Czech Republic, from my hometown (Kladno), so every young kid had his poster on the wall," Voracek told NHL.com.
Voracek doesn't keep the posters on the wall now, considering he can look across the Philadelphia Flyers locker room every day and see the real Jagr as his teammate.
As the future Hall of Fame member prepares to celebrate his 40th birthday on Feb. 15, NHL.com talked to 40 players, coaches, broadcasters and media members who have chronicled Jagr's career for their favorite moments of a career that eventually will end with a Hall of Fame ceremony in Toronto:
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Jakub Voracek, teammate -- "The first time I met him I was four years old. It was during the NHL lockout in 1994. I took a picture with him; that was pretty cool. (When I showed him the picture) he was laughing pretty hard. He was 22 years old and I was four years old, so that was pretty funny."
Ron Francis, former teammate -- "The year we had the (1992) Cup run and we were down to Chicago in the first game of the Final, and by the time he got finished scoring a goal there were five guys down on the ice. Obviously he's a very special player and a real good person. I think somewhat misunderstood, but he was passionate about what he wanted to do and how good he wanted to be and he worked hard at it. I certainly enjoyed getting to know him and calling him my friend."
Jeff Reese, Flyers goalie coach -- "One year in Hartford, the game was tied and went into overtime and we called him for an illegal stick. Pierre McGuire was the head coach and called him for an illegal stick. The penalty expired, he came out of the box and scored the game-winner on me. It kind of backfired on us."
Mark Recchi, former teammate -- "He was 18 and 19 when he came over. His first game, he was this young, baby-faced kid that came over from the Czech, didn't speak any English, but you could see his raw skill. He was very raw at the time but he was very skilled. He had a great work ethic, I remember that.
"He scored a big goal as a young kid when we won the Stanley Cup in 1991 against New Jersey. I remember that very well. Just how strong he was and he controlled the game. He could speed it up, slow it down. Not many people can do that. He was capable of doing that when he was in his prime."
Kevin Weekes, NHL Network analyst/former teammate -- “One memory is in the locker room. He's such a joker, always joking around. He had a lot of fun, and was much more upbeat than people recognized, and younger at heart than people recognized.
"When we practiced in New York, at odd times he would ask me how my shot was. He'd ask how his shot was and how it was coming in. If I said it wasn't coming in the same or he changed his release point, it didn't have same velocity, he'd come out in a track suit and shoot pucks after practice. Then I found out he'd go back out to the rink in Tarrytown on his own and shoot pucks. I guess the only other person I've ever heard of doing that is Michael Jordan. I've never heard of another professional athlete doing that.”
Joe Mullen, former teammate/Flyers assistant coach -- "Just seeing him come in when he was just 18 years old and it was just amazing every day in practice, especially with his work ethic out there on the ice. We had to kick him off the ice almost every day. He just loved to stay out there and just work. … We were all amazed on how strong he was and how talented he was – just amazed us every day in practice."
Ondrej Pavelec, Jets goalie -- "He was the best player in the NHL for so many years, and he is from my hometown (Kladno, Czech Republic). I was lucky I played with him (2010-11 World Championship, 2010 Olympics). I see him train every summer. It's unbelievable how good he still is in the NHL. It's great for the NHL that he came back. … Every time I play against him, it's great to see him on the ice and to see what he can do."
Dylan Reese, Islanders defenseman/Pittsburgh native -- "He's one of the reasons I started playing, him and (Mario) Lemieux and the Penguins' Stanley Cups in 1991 and '92. That's when hockey picked up in Pittsburgh and that's when guys my age started playing the sport. I just remember him in the '91 playoffs and coming in the young guy, with the mullet flow, calling him Junior Mario. He was something special to watch. He was a great talent in Pittsburgh and just a tremendous player."
Scott Hartnell, teammate -- "Just seeing him on highlights dangling everybody and scoring. Playing with Lemieux when they were unbeatable almost in the 1990s. Now to be playing with him almost two decades later, sometimes it feels not even real. … As a young kid you always dream of playing in the NHL, but to be playing with a superstar on the same team and playing on a line with him the whole year, you go home at night and just say wow, this is for real. It's pretty neat."
Maxime Talbot, teammate -- Every time you think about Jagr … you think about his hair. That's one thing that comes to mind for a lot of guys when you think about Jagr. The Jagr years, his hair. After that, my memories are playing against him when he was with the Rangers and how tough he was to play against. How tough it was to take the puck from him and stuff like that."
Mike Lange, Penguins radio broadcaster -- "Jags is the only player, out of all the phrases I use in calling goals, who actually developed one that I use. When he first started with the Penguins we sat together on the bus for the first five years. One day, out of nowhere, he said to me, 'I've got an idea. Maybe I can give you a phrase and you can use it.' At that time he was getting better at English, so he wrote it down and he wrote, 'What I want to say is, He smoked him like a bad cigar.' I said, 'OK, that's great. But can you do me a favor? What I’d like to do is do it in Czech.' So he gave it to me in Czech, and from that point on I used it both in the Czech language and to call goals. It brought a smile to my face, because he’s the only player to ever approach me about doing something like that, which I found so unique and so different."
Zbynek Michalek, Penguins defenseman -- "When I was a kid growing up he was my idol, and he was the idol of many kids growing up. When he became a star in Pittsburgh and they were winning Stanley Cups, a few years before that communism went down in '89 in the Czech Republic and they finally started to show some NHL games. At that time, my first memory is of him playing in Pittsburgh and that was the favorite team for everyone because of him. He did so much for hockey in the Czech Republic, so my first memory of the NHL is of him. It just made everybody proud because he was one of the first young guys to be able to come to the NHL and play and he was doing so well."
"His attitude … I think sometimes age is what you make it to be. He doesn't lean on that he's approaching 40. He doesn't come to practice like that. He doesn't look for days off. He doesn't use that. Actually, it's the exact opposite. He's been a terrific influence on our younger players." -- Flyers' coach Peter Laviolette
Radek Dvorak, Stars forward -- "I had a chance to play with him on the national team and it was always an honor. He's been awesome for the NHL. When he left for the KHL in Russia, he was the best player there. Guys like him you don't see very often. He's an older generation guy, and turning 40, it's awesome to see him still playing in the NHL. … Before he left for the KHL, he was one of the best players in the game, the best European by far. We have a lot of good European players, but he was dominating every year he was playing in the NHL."
Loui Eriksson, Stars forward -- "It's fun to still see he can do what he does on the ice. He still can create a lot of chances for them. I remember when I was a kid I really looked up to him."
Peter Laviolette, Flyers coach -- "You really wouldn’t know it the way he trains and practices. His attitude … I think sometimes age is what you make it to be. He doesn't lean on that he's approaching 40. He doesn't come to practice like that. He doesn't look for days off. He doesn't use that. Actually, it's the exact opposite. He's been a terrific influence on our younger players … having them after practice or getting them extra work or coming back to the rink for some extra work. Just having his experience in the locker room, you wouldn't know that he's closing in on that number and he doesn't play that card. He's been great."
Tomas Vincour, Stars forward -- "Growing up, he was my favorite player, of course. He's been in the NHL for years and then the last few years he’s been in the KHL, he’s showed that he’s a first-class player. He came back and he’s still one of the best players in the NHL. … Back in 1998, the Olympics in Nagano, he scored a huge goal against the USA. I watched that tournament every day, every single game. That's a moment that stuck with me in my mind. The first time I saw him for real was at the airport. I always wanted to see him on the ice and get to see him play."
Jamie Benn, Stars forward -- "He's a special player, and getting the chance to play against him this year and actually see how good he is was an eye-opener. … Sometimes I caught myself just watching out there and realizing that is Jaromir Jagr. Watched him play all those years growing up and finally getting a chance to play against him was pretty special. You hate to see him score a goal against your team, but I guess it was pretty cool seeing that salute."
Martin St. Louis, Lightning forward -- "He was with Washington when I first played against him. That playoff series we had against them in '03, I feel that was the first time I got to play some good important minutes against him, so that was fun."
Tomas Plekanec, Canadiens forward -- "It's difficult for me to pick a best moment of his career because I was watching him since I was a kid. I played with him in the World Championships last year and I think he scored the first hat trick for the national team. It was a qualifying game against the U.S. and that was a pretty good game, and being part of this with him, it was special for me."
David Krejci, Bruins forward -- "I think he was the biggest reason for me to play in the NHL. When I was growing up, there were only two guys, Jagr and (Dominik) Hasek. Hasek was a goalie, so if Jagr wouldn't be there, I don't know what would've happened. Maybe I wouldn't have wanted that bad to be a hockey player as I wanted to. He meant everything to me when I was a kid. I looked up to him."
Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks forward -- "I actually remember having a tape called 'The 50 Greatest Goals' when I was a kid. I'd put it in the VCR there and watch that over and over. I never forgot a goal he scored against Chicago where he undressed about four guys, then put a backhand through Eddie Belfour. He was one of my favorite players. In summer hockey you got to pick your own number (and) I used to wear 68 because of him."
Nicklas Lidstrom, Red Wings defenseman -- "I've seen some highlight films of him scoring some great goals, especially early on in his career in Pittsburgh, beating three or four guys, taking it hard to the net and still making a great play with a great deke on the goalie. That's what sticks out to me, some of those highlight goals that he's scored. … Just from playing against him, the thing you always remember about him is just how strong on the puck he is. He's a big guy, but he can protect the puck, he can take the puck to the net … he can do so many things that it's hard to defend against him. I think that's what sticks out most. He's got a great shot. He can stickhandle and protect the puck and find his teammates open, so it makes it harder to play against him."
Zdeno Chara, Bruins defenseman -- "I remember when he was in his heyday, it was always an honor to play against him. And still. He's a legend of this League and of this sport. … He's back, in great shape, he plays hard -- much harder than he used to play -- he obviously tries to play both ends. It's not easy for a guy at his age. He's accomplished so much, has nothing to prove really, he has everything, and to come back, I think he's doing it for himself and you have to give the guy a lot of credit to do that. Because if it wouldn't work, he could really ruin his name or kind of the stats around him. But I think for him to come back, and a lot of people were kind of waiting for what it was going to be like, I think it kind of establishes even more his position in this sport."
Two-time Stanley Cup winner and future Hall of Famer Jaromir Jagr turns 40 years old on Wednesday. (Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI)
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks forward -- "He was one of my favorite players growing up. I think it might have been the year 2000 or so, he scored his 100th point, I remember him coming down, he kind of got tripped up by the defenseman, got a backhand shot off, then knocked it out of the air as he was going down. I think that was his 100th point of the season."
Patrick Marleau, Sharks forward -- "Probably my first memory would be watching him win the Stanley Cup in 1991-92 because Pittsburgh was my favorite team growing up. Against Chicago, when he had the puck on the boards and went through like three people, went through (Chris) Chelios and those guys, went backhand, five-hole on (Ed) Belfour, that's probably my first memory of him. … He probably could have broken a lot more records had he stuck around, but it's good to see him back."
Brad Stuart, Red Wings defenseman -- "I just remember him being a real hard player to play against. Big, strong and he was quick. Great hands. If he got a step on you, you weren’t getting it back because he was so strong. I might've stopped him 1-on-1 once and felt pretty good about it. … Yeah, maybe once. Maybe."
Joe Thornton, Sharks forward -- "He was just so dominant for pretty much two decades, just the most dominant player -- big strong, fast. Most memorable moment? Probably the (1998) Olympics, when they won the gold medal. I was watching as a kid, and he was dominant. He was the best player on the ice. He would probably be a little higher up in the record books if he’d stay over here, but definitely a Hall of Famer."
Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings forward -- "I remember the first time I played against him on the (Swedish) national team. It was huge for me. Growing up, he was one of my big idols, and all of sudden he's standing across the line taking a faceoff against me. That's a moment that I will always remember."
Jakub Kindl, Red Wings defenseman -- "He’s the biggest Czech player we've ever had and it's probably going to be a while until there's another Jagr coming up. … I remember when I was about 10 years old and they won the (Olympic gold) at Nagano '98 and he was a star in Pittsburgh and he was just dominating."
Mike Babcock, Red Wings coach -- "When he was in Pittsburgh he was fabulous, to say the least. He was a dominant, dominant player. Incredible puck-protection skills. We thought at one time this summer he might want to be a Red Wing. He didn't want to be, but he's done a real good job in Philadelphia and had a real good run with the Rangers. I had a chance to talk to him this summer a bit, enjoyed him, but don't really know him. But he's been a dominant, dominant player in our League and around the world for a long time."
Ken Holland, Red Wings GM -- "In his heyday, he was bigger and stronger and more talented than everybody else. His ability to protect the puck down low with skill … obviously watched him lots on TV and didn't play a ton against him with the Rangers, Pittsburgh and now with Philly, but he's one of the great players of all time. … Those great players can play a long time, because they are so much better than everybody else in their prime. He's just so big and strong. He's big and strong. He's a big, huge man with skill. He gets in the corner and sticks his rear end out, you can't get around him. He can protect it and he's got hands. He can lose a step, but he's still an effective player down low. He might not be able to go up and down the ice like he once did, but he's still a real threat down low. He can roll around, he protects the puck, he gives and goes. He's just a great player. One of the great ones."
Bruce Boudreau, Ducks coach -- "When he played against us this year he was really good -- still. He's still a bull in a china shop. He's big. He's strong. He can shoot the puck. I mean, the only big difference between now and 15 years ago is he gets hurt a little more often. Size and skill and strength is still there. I haven't seen it missed, whether I was watching it on TV or watching it live. I thought that he might be, like a lot of people, that he'd be good early and then it'd peter out … but it doesn't seem to have happened."
Teemu Selanne, Ducks forward -- "I've played against Jagr for 20 years internationally and in juniors and in the NHL, and the one thing that always seems to come out is that he's always smiling. He's having fun. That's the only reason he can still play in the older age. When you're having fun and you enjoy this, you do the right things. Obviously, you condition and all the things you have to do to get better when you get older, but you want to do those with a smile on your face -- because you want to still play. I could never imagine enjoying this game more when I'm older than when I was younger … and that's amazing."
Chris Therien, Flyers radio broadcaster/former Flyers defenseman -- My first memory is playing against him. He was such a great player, a wiry, high-flying guy. He was flamboyant, had the long hair. He was the face of the NHL for a while. He was a division rival and he was a main guy on their team. I had luck against him. I played hard against him. I used my big body and kept him to the perimeter. Sometimes I had success, sometimes he got his. But it was always a good rivalry and I enjoyed the battles we had against each other."
Marian Gaborik, Rangers forward -- "I have a lot of memories when I was a kid watching 'NHL Cool Shots' or 'NHL Power Week' back home (in Slovakia). He was on a lot of highlights. He was and still is fun to watch him play. He's one of the best players that's ever played the game. It's fun to watch him even now. You can see that he's still got it."
Randy Carlyle, former NHL coach -- The thing about Jags is he always wanted the puck. If you give him the puck and you give it to him consistently, he's going to be able to provide you offense. He has the ability to turn games around by himself. That's what he was doing at that time. We (2003-04 Capitals) were a good hockey club one year, we had  points and were first place in the Southeast Division, and in the playoffs he was a dynamic player that was able to accomplish a lot on the offensive side of it. We weren't able to provide defense."
Mark Madden, Pittsburgh radio personality -- "It was a game against New Jersey in the 1999 playoffs. The guy had a really bad groin pull (kept him out of four games earlier in the series), but he tied it late in Game 6 and won it in overtime, and he had a great game in Game 7. I saw him after the game and he could barely walk. He was, like, dragging a dead leg behind him, a huge bruise up the inside of his thigh. Anybody who says Jaromir Jagr didn't give it a million percent when he played for the Penguins obviously has a selective memory, because I've never seen a triumph of the will by a hurt player like Jaromir Jagr in that series. It was simply amazing."
Alan Robinson, Pittsburgh-based NHL.com correspondent -- "I've always felt Jaromir Jagr never got enough credit for being one of the most competitive athletes on the planet. His ability to ramp it up when he absolutely had to excel for his team to win was unequaled during his prime. He displayed that in leading the Czech Republic to the 1998 Winter Olympics gold medal in Nagano. Some fans still don't know he wears No. 68 in honor of his grandfather, who died in 1968, the year the Prague Spring uprising resulted in a Soviet-led invasion to halt the reforms. You almost had to be there in Japan to understand the passion, the commitment to win, the ferocity with which Jagr played in the 1-0 victory over Russia in the gold-medal game. I can still see him moving down the interview line after the game. Obviously, he was overjoyed at winning, but what I saw in his eyes was pride, the realization that he had helped make a once-impossible dream come true for his country."
Phil Bourque, former teammate -- "The first thing that comes to the front of my mind was playing with him his first year, he's a young kid who spoke almost no English. He really got baptized by fire in the NHL. He got hit a lot. He'd come through the middle of the ice with his head down, and he would just get smoked. We'd be sitting on the bench going, 'Oh, man, is he going to get up?' But he learned really quick that he couldn't do that. And with the advancements in the way he thinks about the game and his strength, and work ethic, he quickly not only became an NHL player but towards the end of that first year he became an elite player, a special player.
"The first time I played against him I was with the Ottawa Senators, and I was told to follow him around the ice, to shadow him. He happened to play 30 minutes that night and I think it took me two weeks to recover. I'd never played close to 30 minutes, ever, in a game -- at any level. As strong as he was and his endurance level, that was something I had never experienced before."
Jeremy Roenick, NBC TV analyst -- "That (1992 Stanley Cup Final) is my biggest haunting memory of him. We were winning 4-1 in Pittsburgh in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final and Jagr scores a goal on us. He literally beat our whole team by himself, and I think Brent Sutter he beat twice. He maneuvered himself all the way through the team and scored a backhand goal on Eddie (Belfour) that sparked the Penguins to come back and beat us 5-4 in that first game. That ended up being our demise. We couldn't rebound from that. Jagr's first goal was the decider. The guy haunts me to today.
"That's a haunting memory, but it's also a memory of sheer brilliance that he was able to do that at such a young age. He was only 20 years old at the time, and for him to do that at that age, you just have to be kidding me. He just had it. He had that gift. He wasn't always the smoothest skater, but he was one of the strongest skaters. He wasn't always that fast, but the way he protected the puck and still today his release and the way he can stickhandle -- he can stickhandle in a phone booth. I think he created that saying."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK