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Jagr returns to Pittsburgh wearing Devils sweater

by Wes Crosby /

PITTSBURGH -- Twelve years removed from his last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jaromir Jagr finally shared his true feelings concerning the team's fan base prior to Thursday's game between the Penguins and New Jersey Devils.

The 41-year-old forward, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins, is used to receiving a hostile reaction from the Consol Energy Center crowd, but instead of striking out against the fans, he applauded their passion.

"They love sports," Jagr said. "They've always loved the Steelers and now they love the Pirates, and Mario [Lemieux] brought the fans here [to the games] in Pittsburgh for hockey. So, I never really had any issues with the fans. They supported us so well over those years that I was here. We made the playoffs every year, so they were even more excited about the hockey here.

"They're crazy sports fans and that's good."

Jagr has faced Pittsburgh the last three times his teams have made the playoffs. He helped the Boston Bruins defeat the Penguins in last postseason's Eastern Conference Final, earning three assists in four games.

He's been successful against his former team, scoring 41 points (21 goals, 20 assists) in 43 career games.

Coincidentally, Jagr's return to Pittsburgh in yet another opposing team's sweater coincides with the removal of his likeness (replaced by Mark Recchi) from the Penguins locker room "Ring of Honor." The removal is seemingly because the Penguins no longer want active players honored within their locker room.

But no matter the reason, Jagr said it does not affect him, simply saying: "That's great," referencing Recchi's addition.

Jagr scored 1,016 points in 11 seasons with Pittsburgh and might be honored as one of the organization's all-time great players someday. He said he would welcome his number being retired, but it isn't up to him when, or if, that occurs.

"I'm not thinking about it," he said. "It's up to the organization, how they feel. Lately the fans don't really appreciate me here, so I don't know if it would be a good idea or not."

The 19-year veteran isn't focused on what the future could bring, as he is putting his full attention into helping the Devils rebound and make a playoff push this season and said he did not hesitate to join New Jersey.

"I heard rumors about the Devils," Jagr said. "I heard about the strict rules. I don't mind that at all. Maybe it would have been different for me 15 years ago, but now I agree with that. Whatever [Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello] tries to do, he wants everybody to feel important on the team.

"Even the guys on the fourth line [are treated the same as] the guys on the first line. I think that's the way it should be."

After many years facing Martin Brodeur, who will not start the Devils' season opener for the first time in 18 years, Jagr said he is relieved to play alongside the veteran goalie. Brodeur said the feeling was mutual.

"Finally," Brodeur said concerning playing with Jagr. "It took a while, though. I'm definitely happy he's on our side. I think he's a great hockey player still, and I think he's going to bring a lot for our team. Not only on the ice, but I think off the ice and the way that he works at his game.

"I think he's going to be a great example for some of our young guys."

Devils coach Peter DeBoer said he thinks Jagr's addition to the lineup gives it more prestige, but noted that Jagr is more than just a big name, he's a veteran player who can still produce.

"He can still play at a high level," DeBoer said. "You saw it last year in the playoffs. You saw it last year during the regular season. He gives us some veteran presence, but he's a guy when the puck's on his stick, there's offense being created. That's something that we lost last year."

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