This being Jaromir Jagr’s final season in the NHL, I asked him if he would be interested in doing a special Throwback Thursday series with me this season recounting moments from his life and career. At first, he said no. He didn’t have any stories. His story was yet to happen.
I was a bit shocked he said this. But what can you expect? This is Jaromir Jagr we’re talking about. He’s the notorious hockey player known to diss media at every turn.
So I decided to up the ante and talk him into it. He kept saying no at every turn, laughing at my every attempt. Running out of cards to sell this series to him, it took telling him I was going in for surgery to remove a tumor in my parathyroid gland in six days to get him to get serious with me and promise that he would do the series if I lived. [Yes, I really did have surgery.]
We bumped fists to seal the deal.
Of course, it was afterward that I realized he was messing with me in the beginning and he was going to do the series all along.
At any rate, I lived. True to his word, he is doing this series with me. He wants this to be a good series. He said that was the most important thing. It had to be good. So each week he’ll share a new story as he counts down the days to his final game as a NHL player.
In his first Throwback Thursday story, he decided to share some of his wisdom before beginning his tale.
“One special thing about one special human who changed your life…I believe anybody in the world you meet, or you listen [to], affecting your life. It’s always a good way, even if you feel that person’s hurting you, but it’s kind of motivating you or showing you another way. You just have to take the positive from everything that happened to you.”
“This is a lesson for everybody. God is speaking through me to people. I can’t help it.” he said laughing.
That was Jaromir Jagr’s wisdom of the day.
He decided that for his first contribution to the series, he would talk about how he came into being and a little taste of what it meant to grow up hockey when he was a kid.
“The reason I start playing hockey,” he shared. “I was born. In our Republic, back then during the communist years, when parents had kids, they know how tough life for them was during the communist years. So anybody that had a kid and had a chance to be responsible for their kids, they want them to have a better life than them, so they give up their lives for the kids.
“I don’t think it’s possible in this world right now. The parents are not the same anymore. They got their problems. But in Europe, that’s the way it was, especially in our Republic. They just did everything for their kids. They don’t worry about their lives. They just did everything for their kids so that they’ll have a better life, because they knew if they don’t do it, the kids are going to struggle. It’s going to be even more painful for them to see their kids struggle. That was the main reason why I become…to do a sport in hockey, because my dad figured out it’s only actors, singers and people that do sports that might have a better life during the communist years, because that’s the way it was.”
“From both sides I came,” he said of his family being farmers. “My mother’s side and father’s side. It’s a long story how I became. My parents would never have actually met because they lived in different cities.
“But from my mother’s side, what happened is the communists put my mother’s dad in the jail. The law was they had to move from that city to somewhere else. The jail was in a different city.
“The jail was…in my father’s city. The mother, my grandmother, decided to move the family somewhere close to the jail so the grandfather can see the kids. He was in jail so there is a chance. They don’t let them outside, but from the jail, he could see the kids. They rent a house across from the jail. That’s why they moved to the city.”
“Grandfather had a chance to see my mother. She had one sister and one brother. They moved to a different city.”
“My father’s side, they were already in the city. They were very rich. They had a huge farm. A lot of people were working for them. The communists came and they took everything. All of a sudden they were the richest people in the world and then had nothing. [The communists] didn’t care. They kicked them out of the house. They had to walk and nobody cared where they go. So they have to find somewhere to sleep.
“That’s it. That’s probably the hardest thing to do…be the richest guys and then all of a sudden have nothing.
“They took everything away from them and they asked him to work for the communists. [My grandfather] had a big ego, so he said, ‘I’d rather go to jail than to work for you guys who steal everything from me.’
“My grandfather sat in jail for six years. I got the 68 because he died in that year. That’s what happened. He’d rather sit in jail than work for the communists. Not many guys would do it, but he did it.
“He died in ’68. That’s why I go the number 68, because of the Russians. Everything happened in that three months at that time.
“Then I start playing hockey. I got born and I start playing hockey. I think around three or four years old when I start playing.
“I start skating. I was okay. My dad started talking to some coach and they told him you’ve got to try to make him something extra with the body like push-ups and sit-ups and squats. So [I] started doing that when I was eight years old. I started to like it. Sooner or later, I started doing 1,000 squats a day…”
Just in case you didn’t catch that…
“1,000 every day,” he reiterated. “1,000 I did.”
That was without weights.
“I started when I was eight years old. I did a thousand a day. It’s a lot. When you do it, it’s a lot.”
Must be tough if you lose count, I say to him.
“It is,” he responded. “I was pretty smart to do it that way. I wake up. I do 150. I eat breakfast…”
“You see, I don’t care. That’s where it started.” He says this in reference to a conversation we had prior to the interview while he was eating a tuna fish sandwich. He eats and then works out immediately afterwards. He doesn’t wait for the food to settle. He eats and then works out. He also does this right before games.
“I wake up. I did 150. I eat before I went to school. Before I went to school, I did 150, so I had 300. I come right from the school and do 150, eat again, 150, then before I went to sleep, I did 200 and 200 and I was done.”
Do you still keep that up today?
“No, I cannot do it,” he responded. “You have the games and everything. I don’t think it will help me right now. If you don’t do it until 20 years old…if you do everything when you’re young…everything is just that much better.
“That’s why I think kids should be pushed, because they don’t get tired. You just have to teach them everything right away. Everybody thinks differently. The kids can learn everything so quick and easy. They don’t get tired.
“When you’re a kid, three or four languages, they remember everything. Even if they forget right away, if they learn, they learn it [again] 10 years later, they pick it up right away. Kids are totally different.
“That’s why I don’t agree with let your kids do whatever they want. I don’t think it’s the right way to do it. I don’t agree with it. How does a kid that’s four years old, five or six…how does a kid know what they should do? They have to be pushed sometimes. They have to be led. The parents should lead you, not let you do whatever you want.”
Many hockey players in today’s NHL attribute playing multiple sports when they were growing up as a way to make themselves into better hockey players. Did Jagr play anything else besides hockey?
“There was only one professional team in our city. That was hockey. There was nothing else.”
“There was no choice. We don’t have baseball in Czech,” he says scoffing at the random sports I rattle off that he could have played.
Oh, but they do have futbol. He corrects me and says it’s soccer.
It’s futbol in Europe..and no, he didn’t play any other sport. JUST HOCKEY.
Jagr has been known for being a Czech history buff [or so I’ve read]. Was 1968 the reason?
“You know what? You don’t really have a choice in the communist. You had to be really good in school. You don’t have a chance to play anything. They were tough. I appreciate it, because right now the schools they got there…that’s a joke. I think it’s everywhere. All over.
“During the communist years? School? Wow. You got to be sharp. They were tough.”
How were your grades back then?
“I was good. But you have to be good. Sometimes when the kids were bad, the parents had a problem, because the communists say, ‘Hey! You don’t take care of the kids, so it’s your problem.’ So the parents have to make sure the kids are good, because if they don’t, they go after the parents, too. It worked both ways. It was totally different.
“I don’t mind it. I really respect it. I’ve got a lot more respect than the younger guys right now. We had to have respect for all the people. You appreciate everything you got. Right now, it’s too easy for some kids. It’s too easy.”
This leads to a conversation on why he’s vested in Kladno Knights, where he is the owner. At first, he thinks I’m talking about money. I clarify that I’m talking about investing so much of his time and energy in youth hockey.
He gets quiet.
“I don’t have a choice, kind of. It’s hard. The economy is so bad. When you’re owner of the professional club, the kids are under you. You don’t own just the professional club. You’re the owner of the kids. I got 500 kids under the team. It’s a lot. So we’ve got 20 teams.”
To clarify, these 500 kids are all under Kladno Knights in different tiers. He is responsible for all of them.
Is that normal? I ask him of the high number of kids under Kladno.
“Yeah. It’s everywhere. Every professional team has to have kids from four years old to five years old. Every category. Once you start playing as a kid, you’re going to play for the professional team if you’re good enough. You cannot go anywhere else.”
What’s the age going into the Czech Leagues? 16?
“If you’re good, you can play whenever you want. There’s no limit like here at 18 years old. I started when I was 15. I played two and a half years before I came to the NHL. I was already a professional when I was 15.”
While on the topic of the Czech Leagues, the last time I was in the Czech Republic, I was there to cover the New York Rangers while they played in an exhibition game against Sparta Praha. While I was doing my research on the Czech club, I discovered some very interesting facts from their history. I discovered that during WWII, a few hockey players from Sparta were responsible for the assassination of a Nazi general.
I asked Jagr about this and if Kladno had a similar interesting history. [Truthfully, I was giving him a homework assignment for a future Throwback Thursday piece.]
“The thing with Sparta Prague, this is a club that everybody hates because during the communists, that was like a government team.”
But this was before the Communists.
“That’s what I’m saying. If you want to play for the national team, everybody had an advantage…you go and play for Sparta so everybody hate that club because they always had the best players.”
When the Rangers visited, that wasn’t the case. Now, it is.
“Right now they do because the Russians invest their money in there. Now they’re dominating.”
He stands up and says he has to go work out.
“You got so many stories!” he says as he heads out of the locker room.
You only gave me one story.
He stands at the door in shock. “Come on…”
Oh, this is going to be an interesting final season.