In a sea of characters on St. Patrick's Day in Manhattan, nine out-of-towners clad in hockey jerseys and faux mullets stand out from the crowd.
The Traveling Jagrs took on New York on Friday for their annual pilgrimage to see Jaromir Jagr, the Florida Panthers' forward who has only enhanced the love of hockey for these superfans.
A large group wearing wigs and Jagr jerseys, with each of his eight NHL teams represented, will stand out. But unlike so many tourists visiting New York for the first time, the Jagrs were embraced by the locals, who flocked to be a part of the unique scene.
"We don't say no to anybody, so that's sort of brought the love of the fans," said Trevor Freeman, known in the group as Dallas Jagr. "We don't think of it as we have fans, we think of it as people are getting to know Jagr a little bit because of some silly stunt that we pull."
At the NHL Store Powered by Reebok the Jagrs played bubble hockey, posed for pictures and paid homage to a mural of Jagr on one of the walls. From there they headed to Madison Square Garden, where Jagr rewarded their nearly 2,400-mile venture from Alberta with two assists in Florida's 4-3 shootout win against the New York Rangers. The NHL's second all-time leading scorer passed Gordie Howe for most points of any NHL player after age 40.
"Amazing," Freeman said of seeing Jagr set the record in person. "We're used to him setting records, but to see it live in MSG was of course special."
The original group consisted of six Jagrs, comprised of Freeman's friends and family. At the suggestion of Freeman's cousin Tylor Keller, known as Rangers Jagr, they donned the jerseys and fake hair as a last-minute Halloween costume while in Las Vegas in 2009. If the originals can't make a trip, they solicit stand-ins through social media.
Jagr and the Panthers have embraced the quirky group. The future Hockey Hall of Famer met with them on their trip to Sunrise, Florida, for a game last season and acknowledged the group when it went to see the Panthers play the Calgary Flames on Jan. 17. On Friday, he again showed his appreciation, and amazement at the group's commitment, with a wave at MSG.
"We definitely feel like he acknowledges our relationship in a unique way and definitely recognizes us specifically," Freeman said. "We count ourselves very lucky for such a thing."
The Jagrs will follow the Panthers to Pittsburgh, where Jagr's career began, for their game Sunday (1 p.m. ET; SN, TVA Sports, ROOT, FS-F, NHL.TV). They were supposed to go to Florida from there and be a part of the Panthers "Mullet March" promotion where the organization will distribute Jagr-themed tank tops at their two home games next week, but were forced to cut the trip short.
"We had to put the Florida leg on hold because we had sick babies. Life gets in the way," Freeman said. "We're not going this year. If they can miraculously make the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs, maybe we'll get down."
Jagr can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, and even though he turned 45 on Feb. 15, has expressed interest in playing for several years to come. As long as he continues to put on a uniform and lace up his skates, the Traveling Jagrs will be around to cheer him on.
"Hopefully he re-signs [in Florida] next year, because we've made a lot of good friends there and had a lot of fun going," Freeman said. "As long as Jagr keeps doing it, we're going to keep doing it."