COLOGNE – Jaromir Jagr still has that presence. The beard may have more gray in it than before, but the hair is the same, and the smile and the look on his face, they, too are back. The 38-year-old forward leads his team in scoring with six points in seven games, but just as much it’s his charisma and his aloof way of being that keep everybody on his toes.
Even when he's not there, people talk about him.
The Swedes were asked about Jagr. The Czechs were asked about him. How can you stop him? How can you use him the best? Who will he play with? How important is he for your team? And then back to the Swedes: How can you stop him?
In the Czechs quarterfinal game against Finland, Jagr dominated big parts of the game. The Finnish defencemen were mere passengers on a ride when Jagr got the puck in the corner, kept the defencemen at arm’s length - literally - and broke to the net. He didn’t score, but he was always a threat.
“He’s got better as the tournament has progressed, he was very visible against the Finns, and held the puck alot. He’s very important to the team,” says coach Vladimir Ruzicka, who was Jagr’s teammate and team captain when the Czechs won the Olympic gold in Nagano in 1998.
Finnish coach Jukka Jalonen was impressed by Jagr.
“Every time he’s on the Czech team, the rest of the players get an injection of self confidence. We beat them in Stockholm (a week before the tournament) when he didn’t play. Now he held on to the puck for five minutes at a time and had chances to score at least three goals with his spinoramas close to the net,” he says.
“When he really plays to win, such a world-class player can dominate the game. We just don’t have any such players,” Jalonen adds.
In the teams’ first game in the tournament, in the preliminary round, Sweden’s Michael Nylander did what few players ever can do. He brought Jagr down.
“I think he was off balance when I hit him. Normally nobody moves him so I was surprised. I think he was reaching or had his weight on the other leg,” says the Swede who’s been Jagr’s linemate in both the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers.
That said, maybe the crosscheck early in the game got to him because Jagr was held off the scoresheet.
“He’s an excellent player, but maybe not what he was five years ago. He’s strong, he’s got a great reach, so we’ll have to stay close to him and make sure he doesn’t get that extra time and space he wants,” says Sweden’s goaltender Jonas Gustavsson.
“I know that he runs their power play and that you have to be aware of him when he has the puck, but I don’t think about specific players on the ice,” he adds.
The Swedes can’t put all their focus on the strong winger. The Czechs have score 20 goals in the seven games in the tournament, and besides Jagr and captain Tomas Rolinek, who have scored three goals each, five different players have scored twice in the tournament.
And if coach Ruzicka is right, and it will be a “lowscoring game in which the power play will be the difference”, goaltender Vokoun is another key player.
But here’s betting that regardless of the final score, the talk of the town will be Jaromir Jagr.