Twenty-one years later, Jagr returns to Chicago for Finals

Twenty-one years later, Jagr returns to Chicago for Finals
June 12, 2013, 5:00 pm
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CHICAGO – Jaromir Jagr is certainly enjoying the big stage this week.

The 41-year-old Jagr even used a little Just for Men to touch up the gray spots on his Wolverine beard in anticipation of the Stanley Cup Final battle between the Bruins and the Blackhawks, which starts tonight.

“I think it makes me look tough,” said Jagr, with a smile and a laugh.

It’s all a laughing, smiling matter for the future Hall of Famer playing in his first Stanley Cup Finals in 21 years, dating back to his first couple of years playing with Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins. In a sweet twist of fate, Jagr will be facing the same Chicago Blackhawks franchise that the Penguins smoked in a four-game sweep back in 1992.

But everyone from Chicago's ownership down to its players has changed since 1992 when 50-goal, 100-point guy Jeremy Roenick and the goaltending tandem of Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek roamed the ice.

“It was a different arena. It was a smaller arena, the Chicago Stadium,” said Jagr. “You got tired before you even played in the game because you had to go through all of the steps. That was the test of how you really feel, when you go up the steps before the game.

“Of course, [there is] the national anthem. That was the first time I ever experienced it with everybody screaming during the national anthem. That is pretty exciting.

“The first year we won it, and I didn’t even speak much English. I was away from my country, and was kind of homesick. We were winning, and winning, and winning, and winning. When you’re young you don’t think about how tough it is. You have to be a good team, and even if you have a great team you might not necessarily get into the Finals. You have to be really lucky, you have to be injury-free and your best players have to play their best hockey for two months. That’s the bottom line.”

Even Jagr has changed, as attested by the zero goals scored in 16 playoff games leading into the Cup Finals. But the big right winger played a key role in getting past the Penguins in the conference finals. He will skate with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and there’s a pretty good chance his line will be matched up with Patrick Kane, Michael Handzus and Bryan Bickell in a challenging top-six showdown.

Jagr showed he’s still up for the challenge by beating Evgeni Malkin in a one-on-one battle at center ice to set up the Game 3 game-winner in double overtime, and still has two more weeks to prove that age is simply a number.

“I know it’s not easy to be 41, but I don’t think age matters,” said Jagr. “As long as you love the game and you’re willing to work harder every day than the other guys, then you can play.”

There are also plenty of signature things about Jagr that are still the same. The mullet isn’t as glorious as it once was back in the 1992 era of Jagr, but it’s still a pretty healthy head of hockey hair – with perhaps a little touch of gray.

“When I had the long hair, I wouldn't say it was a style. I wasn't the only one who had it. There were a lot of guys, maybe not that long, but a lot of guys wearing long hair,” said Jagr. “Now it's a different style. But it's going to come back. Everything is just coming back. Ten years later, you'll see a lot of guys with long hair.”

Jagr might be 41 years old and he might be slowing down a little bit, but the Czech winger is proving again, 21 years after his last Cup Finals appearance, that he’s a classic that never really goes out of style.