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Traveling Jagrs excited to have their idol in Calgary

Fan group honoring NHL's No. 2 all-time scorer generates buzz at Flames home opener

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

CALGARY -- The power to light up faces is the extraordinary byproduct of passionate friends from around Alberta, decked out in mullet-length black wigs and a variety of hockey jerseys.

These are the Traveling Jagrs, and their idol, 45-year-old right wing Jaromir Jagr, has landed on their home ice.

"Oh my God, there they are," said Calgary Flames fan Shawn Bradbury as he arrived at his seats in Section 107 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday, laying eyes on the jubilant Traveling Jagrs parked in the lower bowl in Section 108.

All were near the Flames bench awaiting the warmup prior to the game against the Ottawa Senators, Jagr's first at home since signing a one-year, $1 million contract with Calgary on Oct. 4.

Bradbury and his wife Genevieve brought sons Zack, 7, and Parker, 5, to their first NHL game and beamed when they encountered the Traveling Jagrs.

"This is awesome," Genevieve said.

The scene repeated itself time after time, before, during and after Jagr made his Saddledome debut as a member of the Flames.

As they toured the concourse before the game, the Traveling Jagrs elicited smiles -- the vast majority of them ear-to-ear grins -- as well as fist bumps, handshakes, high fives and hugs everywhere they went.

Onlookers were reaching for their phones and a photo op they just had to have.

It wasn't quite pop-star madness, but close, a buzz created by something homemade, as organic as hockey fandom gets. It was real fans admiring the passion of their fellow fans, albeit an unusual crew who came up with this quirky, last-minute idea for costumes for a Halloween party in Las Vegas seven or so years ago.

The purity of its intent -- to pay homage to the indefatigable Jagr, his remarkable talent and his trademark locks -- might have come later, but it's precisely why fans lit up all around the Saddledome on a Friday early in the NHL season.

"You could say it's like Christmas, but you can't even believe he signed in Calgary," said Tylor Keller, also known as Rangers Jagr. "There were rumors in the summer that Calgary was talking to him … and all of a sudden, boom. Now that it's real, you know what, it's taking on a life of its own even more.

"And we know Jagr is still good."

The group now has 10 NHL "members," one for each of Jagr's NHL teams plus a 1993 NHL All-Star Jagr, as well as a Czech Republic Jagr, a Kladno Jagr and an Omsk Jagr to recognize his European teams.

Attendance fluctuates, depending on who can make a particular game or road trip.

Joining Keller at the game Friday were Trevor Freeman (Dallas Jagr), Chris Richter (Washington Jagr), Rhett Bignall (Pittsburgh Jagr), Ryan Sellers (Florida Jagr), Jesse Church (Philadelphia Jagr), Shayne Kuzek (Boston Jagr), Matt Besplug (Calgary Jagr), Malcolm Graham (Kladno Jagr) and three Jagrs-in-training in Flames practice jerseys.

Cheering for Jagr, the NHL's second-leading all-time scorer with 1,914 points (765 goals, 1,149 assists) in 1,713 games, behind only Wayne Gretzky's 2,857 points, is the primary purpose at any game.

Keller suspects Jagr's signing with an Alberta-based team will add layers to the support. The Traveling Jagrs are split between Calgary and Camrose, Alberta, a city about 170 miles north of Calgary. They've typically seen Jagr play when his team comes to Calgary, and have ventured to other NHL cities to see him play.

"Honestly, I picture this really bringing Calgary together," Keller said. "It brings people together to cheer for something. And I think it's going to ramp up Battle of Alberta for us, because we're all from Alberta. Some of our guys are Oilers fans from Edmonton. I don't know if cheering for Calgary is going to be allowed, but success for Calgary is going to be success for Jagr.

"And if he scores tonight, this building will erupt. Everyone's been waiting for that."

Video: Chatting with Trevor Freeman of The Traveling Jagrs

The group keeps eyes on Jagr at all times. When Jagr scores on Flames goalie Mike Smith in the warmup, the Traveling Jagrs' fists pump in the air.

"He's got a lid on for warmup tonight," Keller said of the helmet-wearing Jagr. "We've never seen that before. Maybe it's something with the Flames and lids but he looks pretty serious."

When Jagr is the first Flames player to exit the ice, with 6:02 left in the warmup, the Traveling Jagrs return to the concourse to resume photo ops, chatting with friends and greeting a constant wave of fans.

From their game seats atop Section 209, Jagr is the focus but Ottawa Senators left wing Mike Hoffman is on their radar as well.

"Amazing," Keller said, shaking his head at Hoffman, who's also wearing No. 68 -- Jagr's number.

"Unacceptable," Graham, Kladno Jagr, said. "He should get a new number."

The Traveling Jagrs decide early in the game to show their displeasure.

"Every time he touches the puck, we boo," Keller announces.

When Hoffman handles the puck for the first time, 3:05 into the first period, the boos rain down from the row.

When Jagr, playing a shift with center Sean Monahan and left wing Johnny Gaudreau, gets a scoring chance from the high slot at 14:50 of the first period, to a man the Traveling Jagrs leap to their feet in anticipation. The shot is stopped by Senators goalie Craig Anderson but they applaud anyway, praising Jagr's best shift in a game won 6-0 by the Senators.

However disappointing the end to this game, the spirit of their endeavor rules, the smiles never quit and the group's energy is infectious. That's why 28-year-old Besplug, who has won the competition to be the new Calgary Jagr, cannot believe his good fortune.

"This is gonna be a blast," Besplug said. "I've already had an amazing time, the time of my life. This has been the coolest, best week of my life."

Besplug has his focus perfectly narrowed for the better scores and outcomes ahead for the Jagr and the Flames.

"We get to come out and support a great guy like Jagr, a living legend, and he's got the best flow in the League as well," Besplug said. "And honestly, there's a lot of (lousy) stuff going on in the world right now so this is some lighter fun, a real feel-good story, and it feels great to be part of that."

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