Hall of Fame defenseman offers testimonial on second-leading scorer in NHL history

I’m sure everybody has “that” story about Jaromir Jagr; he did this or he did that. I remember him being a big, young quiet kid, not moody, but he just wanted to be great.

He was a kid in a big guy’s body.

Jaromir was an equipment junkie. His skates were important to him, and our equipment guy in Pittsburgh, Steve Latin, was very patient with Jaromir.

He had that infectious smile. He still does. He looks like a little kid there, just rips out that smile. It’s awesome.

That’s probably what I remember most in those early years.

When he was drafted by Pittsburgh, the first five guys in that draft were incredible hockey players: Owen Nolan, Petr Nedved, Keith Primeau, Mike Ricci and Jagr. For Jagr to be available on the fifth pick was pretty great. They were all great players too, but they didn’t turn out to be Jagr.

He was on my team in training camp. You could see an incredible work ethic. I remember Jaromir watching everything Mario [Lemieux] did. At that point Mario was becoming Mario. He was already great.

The first Cup we won in Pittsburgh, Jaromir was on the fourth line. Badger Bob [Johnson] was the coach … they just don’t make them like that anymore. He was so positive and [Bryan] Trottier was playing with Jagr back then.

The first couple of years in Pittsburgh, Jaromir was a target because he was big and he’d be carrying two or three guys. The game is definitely different now. Some of the stuff that happened back then, you’d get 10 years in jail. Back then it was a good play on the ice.

Jiri Hrdina Jaromir Jagr Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup

You really don’t think anyone can play 25 years. It’s a tough, tough sport. Now it’s a little nicer, a little easier travel-wise. You see what Mark [Messier] did; he’s the same era as me and my body broke down in the late ’90s.

Listen, Mark is a very special human being and a good friend of mine. It was nice when Mark was sitting in second. But records are made to be broken. Jaromir definitely deserves it. I’m happy for him.

They were kind of the same players but a little bit different. Mark was obviously a centerman. Both left-hand shots, both good releases. Jaromir was probably a little bigger and played a different game in tight in the corners where Mark saw the ice well, slowed it down, and in his younger days, could skate like the wind and was as tough as nails.

People ask me, ‘How did [Wayne] Gretzky ever get 200 points?’ I tell them, ‘Easy, he was trying to score 300 points.’ There hasn’t been a player before or since that wanted to score every time he was on the ice. I don’t mean score goals or be selfish out there but score when he was on the ice or set somebody up.

My guess is a guy like Jaromir will play as long as he produces and as long as he’s wanted. Once you get out, you aren’t getting back in. It’s not like you’re 28 and you decide to retire and you retired for two years and say, maybe I’ll go back and play. I’m happy for him.

For him to keep going — hey, forget going — he’s playing at a high level. Jaromir is still doing a great job for Florida. I’m sure they keep him around for a lot of reasons, but one of them is his leadership skills and love of the game.

They’ve got some good young talent in Florida; hopefully they’re taking in everything he is doing, the same way Jaromir once did with Mario.

It’s great for the game, great for the league. It’s one of those things: You’ve got to go get it. No one is going to give it to you and Jaromir has never had anything given to him.

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