August 19, 2007 | red
Karlovy Vary - Very few players have had a similar impact on hockey
history. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Jaromír Jágr are likely the
three most popular hockey players on Earth. During his career Jágr has
earned legendary status in the sporting world and has become the most
productive European ever to play in the NHL. In Karlovy Vary he
recently won his eighth Golden Hockey Stick award.
The Beginnings. He started his minor league career playing with Kladno at the age of sixteen. Two years later he played in the World Championships in Switzerland along with Robert Reichel and Bobby Holík, making up part of the young team’s scoring line. In 1990 he was drafted fifth overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
NHL. Jágr entered the world’s best known hockey league in grand style. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup in the first two years after he joined the club (1991, 1992). That was enough for the hockey world to take notice of a player with enormous potential. In the shortened 1994/1995 season the Czech winger won his first Art Ross Trophy as the most productive player of the regular season. In coming years he would score 1500 points, earn a place for himself as the 12th highest-scoring player in NHL history and lead all European players in the category.
National Team. Jágr experienced further success with the Czech national team. He took a leading role in the Czech Republic’s first-ever gold medal victory at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. He also put forth a world-class performance during the 1995 World Championships in Austria by completing a career hat-trick of victories in the Stanley Cup, the Olympics and the World Championships.
Jagrmania. No. 68 is one of the most popular Czech athletes of all time and has ignited the country with Jagrmania three times during his career. After the World Championship victory in Austria mobs of fans displayed their little fingers on Prague’s Old Town Square in honor of their hero, who had played much of the tournament with a broken finger. In the 1994/1995 and 2004/2005 seasons Jágr returned to the Czech league to play for Kladno due to the stoppage of hockey overseas. Each one of his games was sold out.
The Golden Hockey Stick. Jágr has been voted the best Czech player by hockey experts and sports writers an unprecedented eight times. He was the first hockey player in 39 years to win the award three times in a row. He has been voted into the top three every year for the past twelve years, save for 2003.
Celebrity. Thanks to his candid demeanor, Jágr has always been a favorite among sports journalists. At 35 years old, he ranks alongside Petr Čech, Roman Šebrle, Martina Sáblíková, Tomáš Rosický and Štěpánka Hilgertová as one of the most respected Czech athletes still competing.
Future. Jágr’s contract with the New York Rangers ends after the 2007/2008 season, though the club can offer to extend his contract. Nevertheless, Jágr will cease to be the best paid hockey player on the planet at the beginning of the coming season. His yearly salary of eight million dollars will be surpassed by Daniel Brier’s ten-million-dollar-a-year contract with Philadelphia.