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Number 68 Jaromír Jágr
Jaromír Jágr has played 35 seasons as a professional hockey player. He started skating at the age of three, and by the time he was 15, he was playing in the topflight of Czechoslovakian hockey. At the age of 17, he was the youngest player selected for the Czech National Team.
Born on February 15, 1972:
Jágr was the first Czechoslovak player to be drafted by the NHL without first having to defect to the West; his selection in the NHL draft came as the Iron Curtain was falling. Because of this, after Jágr was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins with the fifth overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, he was able to immediately relocate to North America from Czechoslovakia. When he attended the draft, in Vancouver, he was the first Czechoslovak player present at the NHL draft with his government’s blessings.
He is a member of the Triple Gold Club, “individuals who have played for teams that have won the Stanley Cup (1991, 1992), the Ice Hockey World Championships (2005, 2010) and the Olympic gold medal in ice hockey (1998).” He has been named one of the 100 greatest hockey players in the National Hockey League.
His achievements on the ice came with problems off the ice. He had gambling debts and some problems with the IRS.
One of the most interesting stories is why he selected the number 68 for his jersey.
Jágr wears the number 68, which he has worn through his entire career, in honour of the Prague Spring that occurred in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and his grandfather, who died while in prison that same year, and had earlier been imprisoned for opposing the collectivization of his farm in the post-war Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. In any interviews when asked about his number, Jágr explains that he wears it not due to bad relations with Russian people, but rather due to disaffection with Communism.
He also carried a picture of Ronald Reagan. From a Hockey Beast article:
Published in Sports
As a young kid growing up, long before he signed his first NHL contract, Jágr was in school, and everything he was taught was how bad the US were, how they were the constant enemy. Jágr disagreed, so he kept a photograph of Ronald Reagan in his grade book. Jagr had to sneak at the picture because if he were caught with it, he would get into trouble.
One day, a teacher saw the photograph as Jágr got graded, and Jágr was asked to throw it away. He didn’t. He kept on hiding it in the grades book. He did so until he graduated.
When he played for Pittsburgh, he had American flags in his bedroom, and he would never forgive the Soviet Union for what they did against Czechoslovakia.
“In school we were always taught the Soviet doctrine,” Jágr said. “The U.S.A. was bad and wanted war. Russia was our friend and was preventing the United States from bombing us. Even my father didn’t tell me the truth, because he was afraid I’d say something in school that would get us into trouble. But my grandmother, she told me the truth.”
Cool story. I heard his name during an NHL broadcast last week. He is the goto yardstick for many comparisons. His career may have lasted longer than his country.
Had one of the greatest mullets in the golden age of mullets in the NHL.
Did he finally retire or something?
(NB: I know he’s retired from the NHL, but he was still playing in the Czech league. He isn’t eligible for the HHOF until he retires from all professional hockey.))
I think he plans to play forever. He says it is easier than dieting.
You had me worried that this was his obituary.
Thanks Doug. Taking time out from a major hockey depression to see this deservedly promoted.
I knew about Jags wearing 68 for Prague Spring – didn’t know about him keeping a picture of Reagan. No word from all of the corporate media of the 80s who pushed the narrative that Reagan was going to be the cause of WWIII.