July 21, 2024

Jaromir Jagr impresses the current Penguins during practice.
Alex Nedeljkovic is an expert shot-taker.

After all, as the Pittsburgh Penguins’ backup goaltender, he is somewhat of an authority on the subject.

So, when a figure in black surged down the slot and fired a Trident missile of a wrister with his glove, which rang off the post and into the net, he had a pretty clear idea of what had happened.

“It was fast,” Nedeljkovic remarked. “It was heavy.” There is a distinction between hard and heavy shots, and he has a heavy shot. However, I am not sure how legal that curve (on his stick blade) is. It’s a heavy shot.

“He can really put the heat on it.”

Jaromir Jagr, 52, applied the calefaction during his first practice with the Penguins in approximately 8,307 days.

With the superstar in town to retire his iconic No. 68 Sunday before a home game against the Los Angeles Kings, Jagr traveled north to Cranberry and skated for about 15 minutes.

And he appeared sharp.

“His hands are still really good,” said forward Sidney Crosby, a bit of an expert on the subject. “For his first shot, he goes post and in. “He made it look pretty simple.”

Jagr, who is still active with the Kladno Knights of the Czech ELH (Extraliga ledniho hokeje) league, warmed up on the ice in full practice gear. Nedeljkovic and defenseman Kris Letang wore mullet wigs to pay tribute to Jagr’s flamboyant hairstyle from the 1990s.

Letang, a six-time All-Star, also made an arrangement with Jagr.

“I just asked him, ‘Would it be possible if you could sign my jersey tomorrow, which will have his commemorative patch?'” Letang spoke. “I never really had a chance to sit down and talk. I know tomorrow is going to be an emotional and important day for him. So, I didn’t want to bother him on Sunday.

There is a legitimate question about whether Jagr’s presence this weekend will serve as a distraction for the current Penguins, especially given their struggles to stay in the playoff race.

But they welcomed it.

“He has a lot of humility, and his concern was that he didn’t want to be a distraction,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “I assured him, ‘You are not a distraction. You are actually an inspiration. The fact that he was able to participate in the manner he did was exciting for our players.”

Though the Penguins conducted the remainder of practice — following Jagr’s departure to the bench — with the same precision and detail as any other session, for one day, they weren’t bothered by reporters’ questions about the sagging power play or defensive zone breakdowns.

“It can be difficult to come in and be happy, positive, and excited,” Nedeljkovic admitted. “Especially (as) we get further along (in the regular season), and the runway is getting shorter and shorter for us. It’s difficult to remain positive and come in. Something like this today, I believe, can be fantastic. The room was full of positive vibes and energy. Hopefully, we can carry that into tomorrow’s game and move forward.”

Aside from that, the Penguins understand Jagr’s presence after a tumultuous divorce nearly 23 years ago in the 2001 offseason.

Especially those who might see a similar banner raised to the rafters someday.

“I’m sure a lot of memories come back,” Crosby stated. “For the team, whether it’s fans or people who work in the organization, people who grew up watching him here, I think it brings us all back to his time here and some of the great memories he provided, as well as his legacy.”

The team’s equipment managers positioned Jagr in a vacant stall in the dressing room next to Crosby.

“The first thing he said when we came in was, ‘I came in to see this guy (Crosby),'” Letang explained. “He keeps improving with age. It’s exciting to watch someone who is so passionate and has contributed so much to this city and organization. The opportunity to be

Given that Jagr left the Penguins via trade in 2001, he has no connections to the current roster, with one exception.

In the 2010s, Jagr played for the Dallas Stars and the Florida Panthers alongside forward Reilly Smith.

“He has a very big personality,” Smith explained. “He’s been a huge positive influence on every team I’ve played for, both on and off the ice.” There are a few things players can definitely learn from his work ethic. Aside from his talent, he contributed to every team on which I played.

“He has a unique perspective on the game that sets him apart from many others. It’s pretty cool being able to look at

In Czechia, Jagr is viewed as a folk hero. As a result, a few media outlets from that country are in town to cover his return to the site of his greatest exploits.

John Ludvig, a rookie defenseman, grew up in British Columbia but spent a brief time in Czechia after being born in 2000.

He is fully aware of what Jagr represents in that country.

“Over there, he’s an icon,” Ludvig explained. “He is the biggest hockey hero anyone has ever seen. Being on the ice with him today, and having him here, is really special.”

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