It has been over a decade since Jaromir Jagr played his last game as a Penguin. He has played in Pittsburgh a number of times since then. Yet, he has never heard the level of venom that he will hear Thursday when his Flyers visit Consol Energy Center to play the team for which he began what will be a Hall of Fame career.
For Flyers fans who do not have a full working knowledge of why Jagr will hear "boos" every time he takes the ice and touches the puck, it comes down to one simple fact:
Jaromir Jagr is not Mario Lemieux.
From a hockey perspective, Jagr and Lemieux were eerily similar. Neither were the fastest skaters, but both used a wide base, long arms and unmatched one-on-one skills to become the two most dominant offensive forces of the 90s.
Jagr, in fact, grew up in the former Czechoslovakia idolizing Lemieux before joining forces with the 3-time NHL MVP after being drafted by the Penguins in 1990. The "Kladno Kid" added another weapon to an explosive Pittsburgh offense that captured back-to-back Stanley Cups in his first two NHL seasons.
In the years that followed those championships, Lemieux spent as much time dealing with injuries and Hodgkin's Disease as he did winning scoring titles. Jagr, on the other hand, emerged as a superstar fan favorite. A fast-living, free-wheeling scoring machine, the long-haired all-star had Pittsburgh in the palm of his hand.
When injury forced Lemieux's initial retirement in 1997, Jagr became the focal point of the team. Initially, he accepted the mantle and skated with it, nearly single-handedly willing the Penguins to respectability at the end of the decade.
As Jagr kept the product on the ice afloat, Lemieux saved the team in the board room by leading a group to purchase the cash-strapped franchise. The greatest player in franchise history clearly appreciated that his legend diminished if his franchise was history.
On paper, it was the perfect setup. Jaromir (Mario Jr. if you rearrange the letters) playing for his mentor and former teammate, both sides doing their part to save Penguins hockey. Yet, Jagr had tired from the strain of carrying the load. Early in the 2000-01 season, the head-strong winger clashed with coach Ivan Hlinka, a man who was brought from the Czech Republic with the thought of appeasing the Czech star. The Penguins' star undermined his coach by taking short shifts and calling team strategy meetings on his own.
Jagr was great, but he wasn't Super Mario
CSN Philly | Dec 29