-- Contrary to the hype, Jaromir Jagr
says he is no longer a superstar.
"No, I don't feel like that," Jagr said Friday afternoon when asked if he was still the go-to guy on the Czech Republic team. "The media back home might think that, but I don't feel like that. It's important how I feel."
Jagr has been away from the National Hockey League for two years, departing the New York Rangers
and taking his electrifying skill and megawatt personality to Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League. For the past 21 months, he has been plying his trade in Omsk, Russia, far from the prying eyes of North American hockey fans and media members.
Much has clearly changed during that period. Jagr turns 38 early next week and is now passed over when talk now rages about the best hockey players in the world. It is more than just out of sight, out of mind: Jagr himself doesn't feel like he should be in that discussion.
Jagr, sporting just a smattering of gray hairs in his beard, doesn't even believe he is the best player on a Czech team that has gone from Olympic gold medalists in 1998 to also-rans a dozen years later.
"It wouldn't be good to our players if I feel like that at my age." he said.
Nor does he have any illusions that he is the best among the 276 players that will showcase their stuff in Vancouver for the next two weeks.
"It's a different Olympics for me than it was Olympics before," said Jagr, who is appearing in his fourth Winter Olympics. "Those Olympics before, every time I played for national team and there (were) Olympics, I was the guy that was scoring the most goals from NHL in the tournament and everybody was expecting the same thing (in the Olympics)."
But that's no longer the case.
Expectations have been tempered for the greatest goal-scorer of his generation. He missed the final few games before the KHL's winter break with an undisclosed injury, believed to be a groin problem.
"I had some little bit of injuries, but it is OK now," Jagr said.
During Friday's informal practice -- only the seven non-NHL players on the Czech Olympic roster were on hand -- Jagr labored at points and his shot was nowhere near as accurate as it once was.
But maybe Jagr was playing possum Friday, setting up his opponents for one final -- and unexpected -- performance before going quietly into that good hockey night.
"I haven't played NHL for two years -- that's a big advantage for me," Jagr said.
But, it's hard to forget a man that has won five NHL scoring championships and two Stanley Cups during a mercurial NHL career that ran from 1991 to 2008. After all, this is a man that topped the 100-point plateau in the NHL on five different occasions. Plus, he is still a point-per-game player in the KHL, considered the second-best pro league in the world.
"I don't want to come here just to be here," Jagr said. "It's not me. I never want to be that guy. If I decided to come here -- and I am here -- I want to play the best I can play. That's why I put pressure on myself."
That, and the fact that he doesn't want to be embarrassed by the youngsters from across the globe trying to outdo his impressive legacy -- an endeavor that is old as sport itself. Jagr believes he can still put up a fight against Father Time.
For that reason, Jagr likes his chances of jumping out of the shadows -- as self-made as they may be -- and back into the spotlight at these Olympics.
"I don't want to come here just to be here. It's not me. I never want to be that guy. If I decided to come here -- and I am here -- I want to play the best I can play. That's why I put pressure on myself." -- Jaromir Jagr
"The older you are, you get more motivation because you don't want to get embarrassed by the young guys," he said, drawing laughs from the media. "You want to prove that the age doesn't matter. It's all about hard work.
"As long as you work hard and prepare for the games. I know it's tougher -- the relaxation is easier when you are younger; you get fresh a lot quicker. As long as you work hard and love the game, I think you can still play against the young guys. That's my biggest motivation.
Oh yeah, there is also the motivation of his quest -- again self-created -- to reintroduce himself into the conversation about the game's best players.
"I still feel I can help," Jagr said, almost defiantly. "I can do some damage in one game at least. That's all that matters -- maybe it's a very important game."
He is even sporting the long, curly, black hair -- his celebrated mullet -- that defined him at his playing apex.
"It's just to remind me I can do it," he said.