Jágr to play for Rytíři Kladno

The NHL star is currently a free agent and back home for now

Ice hockey legend Jaromír Jágr will be back playing for Rytíři Kladno, most likely on Saturday, Sept. 30. It will be the first time he has been on Czech ice since Jan. 8, 2013, at the end of the NHL lockout before going back to play for the Dallas Stars. He also played during the 1994 and 2004 lockouts.

This time, Rytíři Kladno (Kladno Knights) will be hosting HC Zubr Přerov on Saturday. He had been expected to play against HC Benátky nad Jizerou today, Sept. 27, but this did not occur.

Rytíři trainer Pavel Patera told daily Mladá fronta Dnes that the timing “all depends on Jágr.” He added that everyone wanted to see him back in the Rytíři Kladno white-and-blue uniform, and the Rytíři know they can depend on him in any situation.

Jágr is part owner of Rytíři Kladno, and he considers it his home team. His arrangement with the team makes it possible for him to join the lineup at very short notice.

Kladno is currently part of the Czech 1. Liga, after relegation at the end of the 2013–14 season from the top-flight Czech Extraliga. Patera said he does not expect Jágr to play the whole season at Kladno. His return for part of the season, though, could help Rytíři Kladno to get back into the top league.

Jágr, at 45 years of age, is currently a free agent and is expected to announce which NHL team he will join in early October, or what other career steps he might take. Over his long NHL career he has played for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and the Florida Panthers. He also was on Avangard Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League from 2008 to '11.

Fans in the US are excited that Jágr might return, with some people urging the Pittsburgh Penguins to sign him up, now that former rival Mario Lemieux has retired and is the team’s current owner. “Jagr’s departure from the Penguins in 2001 has been the subject of scores of articles over the years. … [But] Jágr is still a valuable NHL player and has the statistics to back that claim up. With the Florida Panthers last season, he had 16 goals and 30 assists in 82 games. The year before, he had 66 points in 79 games,” Josh King, the station manager at TribLive Radio, said in an opinion for the Pittsburgh City Paper.

Rob Rossi, the sports editor at Upgruv.com, disagreed. “Jágr skates like a 45-year-old hockey player [and] there really isn’t a market for 45-year-old hockey players,” Rossi said.

But to Czech fans, Jágr remains a hero and his presence will sell out any arena. In 1998, he led the Czech Republic to a gold medal at the Nagano Olympics, beating the team from Russia. This led to partly humorous calls for him to run for political office, with “Jágr na Hrad” (Jágr to the Castle) becoming a popular catchphrase. The idea is still sometimes seriously put forward, as he is seen as someone who could unify public opinion.

He is also one of only 27 hockey players in the Triple Gold Club, those who were on teams that won the Stanley Cup (1991, 1992), the Ice Hockey World Championships (2005, 2010) and the Olympic gold medal in ice hockey (1998).

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