Jaromir Jagr battles rust, fatigue in first Flames skate
CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Jet lag, altitude, a summer in limbo and age had Jaromir Jagr bending over to catch his breath in his first skate with the Calgary Flame.
“Not very good,” Jagr said. “I’m glad I survived this practice. Hopefully tomorrow I feel better than today.”
The 45-year-old right winger took the ice Thursday, a day after arriving in Calgary from the Czech Republic.
Calgary’s home opener is Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets before the Flames head out on a two-game California trip.
Jagr’s arrival in a Canadian NHL market in his 24th, and what he says is likely last, NHL season is generating a buzz in Calgary. If he plays 57 games this season, he’ll break Gordie Howe’s NHL record of 1,767.
Jagr’s much-anticipated debut in the flaming ‘C’ may have to wait, however.
“If I’m not going to be ready, I think it’s not very smart to put me out there,” he said.
He has Friday’s practice and Saturday’s pre-game skate to try and get his game legs under him. Flames coach Glen Gulutzan trusts Jagr’s judgment of his game fitness.
“I think he’s got enough games in the league to figure out when he’s going to be completely ready,” Gulutzan said. “We talked about that and I said ‘you’ve got to let me know how you’re feeling.’”
Second only to Wayne Gretzky in NHL scoring with 1,914 points, Jagr said not knowing if he would play in the NHL again made for an awkward offseason. He and the Flames didn’t agree on a one-year, $1 million contract until Sunday.
“I didn’t know if I was going to play in the NHL again. I didn’t practice with any team. I was practicing and I didn’t see any future,” Jagr said. “It’s kind of tough, especially at my age, it’s not easy for anybody to practice on their own, but not to see much future. If I’d stayed in Europe, I would have probably taken a month to get ready before I play some games. Now I cannot do that. It’s a challenge and that’s why I have to go day by day. Hopefully it’s going to come back quick.”
Calgary lost its opener 3-0 at Edmonton on Wednesday night.
“With Jags coming in here today, certainly it gave us another day where I didn’t think we’d get this quality of practice,” Gulutzan said. “He works hard and has that effect on a team. Guys want to show him ‘I can play.’”
Jagr skated on a line with center Sam Bennett and left winger Kris Versteeg.
“It’s pretty cool. He’s a legend,” Bennett said. “Just having him be out there and give me pointers, give me advice, it means a ton coming from a guy like that. It was a really cool practice for me.”