I can safely say that among the guys who’ve floated through here over my quarter century with the club, and who have played fewer than 35 games for the Stars, Jaromir Jagr is by far the most memorable. 34 games played, 14 goals, 26 points, then, shipped away from a team with no post-season future for a couple guys who didn’t pan out and one who hasn’t yet. And I’ll never forget my brief time around him.
The first thing you notice is he’s large, physically freakish and imposing. The power center originates from his lower trunk; massive and sculpted and maintained in his 43rd year by a continuing regimen that leaves elite athletes half his age breathless. His upper body bears the scars of nearly 25 years of opponents stick blades and elbows and board battles. His arms and hands are strong but elegant, possessing both the strength to do what he needs and the dexterity to do what he wants. There’s no mullet anymore, but his faint-grey tinted jet-black twisted locks frame a chiseled face set with sparkling eyes, and a perpetual Cheshire grin that transmits he knows something you’ll never understand.
Jaromir Jagr is unapologetically his own man, a gypsy who travels light and by a self-imposed unique standard and code. The personal and professional travails he’s conquered have left him more resolute and determined. He says he’ll play hockey at a high level until he’s at least 50. You may remember he announced famously during the Olympics last spring, “I don’t get old man… I don’t know why…”
We spoke often about hockey and religion and the metaphysical universe and life. I’d seek him out daily in the room, or he’d find me on the plane. I’ll share two stories with you here.
My brother Paul was in town. He’s a Minnesotan and naturally a big hockey fan. After a game at American Airlines Center we stopped at the Jack Daniels Club, hung out for about an hour, and then went down to get my car when we noticed several people still waiting for Jagr in line outside the Stars room. So Paul and I went in to the room and there he was, sitting in his stall holding his skates. There were only a few lights on and when he saw us he called us over and answered every hockey question my brother had for about 30 minutes while he fiddled with his skates and sticks.
When we left him and passed on to the people still waiting that they may be waiting some more, Paul turned to me and attempted to express what that experience was like and what it meant to him, but mostly all he could do was smile and shake his head. I forgot what it’s like to have that experience for the first time, but watching his reaction I was reminded.
In Denver one gameday afternoon I was going to head over to Pepsi Center a little early in a cab and as it turned out, Jagr was going to do the same thing so we rode together. Except he told the cab driver to make a stop at a local church, where he instructed me to sit by myself and away from him and told me to pray for my friends and for my family and for good things to happen in the world. He sat solemnly in the front and went through what I can only assume was his regular prayer ritual.
When we left the church and walked toward the waiting cab he relayed to me his feelings about what happened and asked me about my experience. I’ll never forget that conversation and the day. He scored about 2 minutes into the game and added a helper in a losing cause. Just another days work for one of the games most special players is all you would surmise from the boxscore.
It’s a crazy business. They come and they go, that’s the deal. And once, like a comet that burns white hot and is only visible for an instant, Jarmoir Jagr was a Star, and I was around to see that most brilliant light.