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Jagr addresses vintage performance

by John Dellapina
With his commanding play so far in these Olympics, Jaromir Jagr is evoking memories of his glory days with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990s and the New York Rangers from 2005-06 through 2007-08.

Right off the ice after another high-impact performance for the Czech Republic in Friday afternoon’s 5-2 victory over Latvia, Jagr stopped to speak with Your team exploded early in this game and then appeared to ease up. What changed after the first few minutes?

Jagr: We had the start we wanted to. We wanted to have a good start. That’s what we did. First five minutes, we had a lead, 3-0. Then we just stopped playing our hockey. We started playing around and not shooting enough and that’s why we stopped playing our game and all of a sudden, it was 4-2 and a battle to the end.
With two goals, two assists and several dominant shifts so far, you look like you’re turning back the clock.

Jagr: I don’t look at my age. I always say age doesn’t matter. It’s all about practicing. And if you’re willing to practice, when you’re 45 you’re going to play like you’re 25. It’s up to the players. I don’t think age matters. How did this game serve as a tune-up for Sunday’s showdown with Russia?

Jagr: It’s going to be a different story than today. They’ve got such a great team and they’re going to be fired up because they lost (Thursday). We have to play a different game than we did today. We have to play good defense. Our forwards have to backcheck a lot harder. I think our defense has to be a lot tighter. Don’t give those forwards time to shoot because they’re really good. We haven’t seen that slap shot from the left boards on the power play since you shredded your shoulder in the 2006 playoffs.

Jagr (joking):
I just bring some new moves any time I want to. You wear No. 68 on your back in tribute to your grandfather, who died in prison when the Prague Spring was crushed by Soviet tanks. Yet you play in Russia and express your affection for the country. Can you explain that apparent contradiction?

How to describe it? I didn’t take the 68 against the Russians. I took the 68 against the Communists. It’s a different story. It’s like if I would have 45 on a jersey and everybody would say you had it because of the Germans in the second war -- no, it would be against the Nazis.

It’s not that. I did it because of my grandfather. That’s why I did it.

I play in Russia. I know half of the team very well. I would say I’m good friends with lots of those guys. They’re great hockey players. I respect them very much. There’s no question about it. And it’s going to be a tough game. But I think we have a good enough team to beat anybody. Is your performance in these Olympics, against predominantly NHL players on an NHL-sized rink making you think about returning to the world’s best hockey league?

Jagr: Well, you know, I’ve got such a great time out there. It would have to be something very special.

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