Home » Penguins retire Jaromir Jagr’s No. 68 to cap joyful homecoming

Penguins retire Jaromir Jagr’s No. 68 to cap joyful homecoming

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PITTSBURGH — There have been jokes. And laughter. And catharsis.

Simply no tears. At the very least none from Jaromir Jagr. Perhaps as a result of they have been pointless when the Pittsburgh Penguins retired his iconic No. 68 on Sunday.

The look on Jagr’s face, the delicate catch in his voice, the smile that continues to be boyish even at 52 stated all of it.

Regardless of the place the NHL’s second all-time main scorer has gone throughout an expert odyssey that has spanned 30-plus years and three continents, Jagr has lengthy understood the place his hockey house is: The place the place he arrived in 1990 as an adolescent from japanese Europe shrouded in thriller, armed with a mullet that turned his trademark and the form of prodigious expertise that finally made him one of many sport’s all-time greats.

“You ask anyone on the planet, Czech, Europe and also you say ‘Jaromir Jagr’ they will say Pittsburgh Penguins,” Jagr stated earlier than a 40-minute on-ice ceremony that ended along with his jersey being raised to the rafters at PPG Paints Enviornment alongside mentor and Corridor of Famer Mario Lemieux’s No. 66 and Michel Briere’s No. 21.

Surrounded by his mom and former Penguins executives and gamers — Lemieux included — Jagr by no means broke down as he feared he would possibly. As a substitute, the franchise’s fourth all-time main scorer let his 10-minute speech function the exclamation level on a weekend through which he reconnected with town to which he’s eternally linked.

“The 11 years I used to be right here was superb,” Jagr stated. “In all probability one of the best years of my life. So thanks for that.”

Jagr’s journey from Kladno, Czech Republic — the place he nonetheless performs for the staff he owns at the same time as he drifts towards his mid-50s — for a celebration that appeared distant at instances was years within the making.

Usually not one for sentiment, Jagr made it a degree to take all of it in. He swapped tales with former teammates throughout an occasion on Friday. He practiced with the present Penguins on Saturday — mentioning, “I used to be fairly good let me inform you” — earlier than spending Saturday evening alongside Lemieux, Jagr’s idol-turned-running mate whereas main the membership to a pair of Stanley Cup titles in 1991 and 1992.

But even on a day — formally “Jaromir Jagr Day” in Pittsburgh — there have been nonetheless hints of the iconoclast whose ardour for the sport he is helped redefine outweighs the whole lot else. Nostalgia included.

Jagr left the Penguins in 2001 when the then-financially confused membership despatched him to rival Washington. He had an opportunity to return in the summertime of 2011 solely to signal with rival Philadelphia, a call that had nothing to do with not loving the Penguins and the whole lot to do along with his perception that he might nonetheless play at a excessive degree in opposition to one of the best, a chance unlikely to occur in Pittsburgh, which was loaded on the time up the center with stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of their 20s.

Unwilling to simply accept a task on the third or fourth line, Jagr joined the Flyers as an alternative, an act of betrayal to a fan base that when idolized him and led to him being booed practically each time he returned as he bounced from staff to staff in the course of the latter phases of his profession.

It was bizarre, sure. Uncomfortable (if comprehensible) too at instances for a participant whose identify is written on the Stanley Cup underneath the identify “Pittsburgh Penguins” twice.

“I would not say I used to be egocentric, however I used to be excited about myself,” Jagr stated. “Perhaps it was a mistake, I do not know. Perhaps if I come right here the celebration can be greater.”

No matter wounds there have been, nevertheless, have healed. The proof got here not simply throughout a rolling standing ovation when Jagr — carrying a darkish go well with and brown sneakers — was launched however in the best way he was embraced at each flip by a franchise that was teetering when he left, one which has now turn into synonymous with excellence.

“Once you have a look at the historical past of hockey, he is anyone that you simply’re all the time going to consider,” Crosby, a three-time Stanley Cup winner himself, stated. “The truth that he performed right here and had the influence that he did right here, what he was in a position to accomplish over his profession, it is unimaginable. And I believe all of us really feel fairly lucky to be a part of this.”

So lucky that Crosby and the remainder of the present Penguins skated out onto the ice for his or her pregame warmup earlier than Sunday evening’s 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings carrying No. 68 jerseys whereas sporting black mullets in tribute to Jagr.

There was one skater on the ice, nevertheless, who was mullet-less: Jagr himself. Save for the salt-and-pepper stubble on his cheeks, for a couple of minutes it was laborious to inform if it was 2024 or 1994. The sellout crowd — a lot of them sporting varied iterations of Jagr jerseys (Penguin or in any other case) and some even donning white Jofa-brand hockey helmets — roared when he emerged from the tunnel.

It grew even louder minutes later when Jagr took one solo lap earlier than exiting into the darkness, a visit again to Kladno within the offing.

There’s a sport to be performed later this week. Greatness — in no matter type he can discover it at 52 — to chase.

“When you’re glad, I believe it is over,” he stated. “Perhaps I am not going to get higher, however I need to assume I am getting higher.”

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