Former Flame Robert Reichel stops by Scotiabank Saddledome to catch up with old pal Jagr, and marvel at his longevity
“We played against each other since we’re six, seven, eight years old,” says Robert Reichel.
“We play together, start together, on the Czech Under-16 team, then the Czech league and on the national team.
“I retired in 2010 ( from his hometown team in Litvinov ) so to still see him here, still playing … it’s something amazing.
“When we were young, he was always a guy people were talking about. And they’re still talking about him.
Sunday provided a Scotiabank Saddledome homecoming of sorts for Reichel, who spent five seasons wearing the Flaming C.
Sitting in the stands watching the newest edition of the franchise practicing gave him time to reflect.
Seeing Jagr always brings back scores of memories for Reichel. Both 17-year-olds, they played against the Stanley Cup champion Flames, along with another future long-time NHLer, winger Bobby Holik, on the Czech’s fourth line during the fall 1989 Friendship Tour.
Eventually selected 90th in the’89 Entry Draft, he still ranks 17th on the Flames’ scoring list, accruing 354 points in 425 games played.
Arriving for the ’90-91 campaign, twice he netted 40 goals here and once led the Flames in scoring, piling up 93 points, before finishing the NHL component of his playing career with stops in Phoenix, on Long Island and finally in Toronto.
Most famously (or infamously, for Canadians country-wide), he notched the winner – the only goal of the shootout, against Patrick Roy – to eliminate Canada en route to a gold-medal victory for the Czech Republic at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
For the last 10 days he’s been based in Edmonton, shuttling south to Red Deer to watch son Kristian – like his pa, a centreman – play in his first season for Brent Sutter’s WHL Rebels.
When Reichel arrived to begin his NHL adventure, he knew no English. Kristian, of course, has no such impediment.
“It’s going good,” reports dad. “Brent treats him very well, he’s got lots of ice time. He went to camp with Winnipeg and played pretty good, in my opinion. But the first thing was his school. He finished it last year and has played pro in Czech already.
“I hope he’ll be drafted and get the chance to play here.”
Given the proximity to Calgary, before a 4 o’clock flight home to the Czech Republic, Reichel wanted to drop in to familiar digs and say hello to an old pal, Jaromir Jagr.
“Always, always good memories of Calgary,” says the now 45-year-old. “I was back here in the summer for the first time in 11 years. Went out to Banff. I called (director of hockey operations) Mike Burke and he showed me around, took me back into the dressing room. I saw (executive assistant) Brenda Koyich.
“I enjoy seeing those people. Being here, it brings back great memories.”
So does the sight of the rangy, shaggy-haired guy down on the ice, staying after the skate Sunday for extra work because he wasn’t quite fit enough to return to the lineup against the Washington Capitals that night.
Even an old pal and contemporary such as Reichel, like the rest of us, can’t help but shake his head at the longevity, the continuing competitive appetite, of the game’s all-time second-leading point collector.
“You have to be in such good shape. And you have to love the game.
“It surprises me he’s still in the league.
“When he’s younger, he try and score goals, make plays, get assists, win games by himself. Now he’s more of a team player, in my opinion. He’s older. He won two Cups when he was young and after that, nothing.
“He wants to win again.
“It’s something special, to be 45 years old and still playing.”