In 1968, a man died in prison in Czechoslovakia. He was in prison because he dared to oppose the communist seizure of his property.
Before he was sent to prison, he had a son who would become a prosperous businessman. The son would own hotels and become well known in the Czech hockey community, rising to the team president’s role for HC Kladno. The son had his own son, and he gave him his own name.
And it was through that lineage that Jaromir Jagr became the second Jaromir Jagr, though he’ll never be anyone’s second Jaromir Jagr again.
In a time when politics divides the world more than it has in decades and nationalism has become synonymous with fear, athletes are encouraged to bury their own politics. In a game like hockey, where “individual” is a slur, to stand up and stand out is expected only of good ol’ Canadian boys who can “aw shucks” with the best of them.
A hockey player who puts limitations on where he’ll play, grows a mullet to echo twenty years past to tickle his fans, leaves for Europe in the middle of his career and then comes back, and responds to blackmail attempts with shrugs and good humor could not be one so beloved, and yet there's Jags.
Jags, whose entire career is married inextricably to a politics that tore families asunder, let alone hockey teams. The legendary Stastny brothers were forced to flee the iron curtain in the dead of night, and they didn't all get out at first. Imports from communist countries were long a mystery and a risk, and for so many years, they were avoided like the plague. After all, who could tell Pavel Bure from Vitaly Karamnov?
But there's Jags. Jags, whose number 68 has been worn in each of his numerous NHL stops. Even Lou Lamoriello, who famously governed the New Jersey Devils with an iron fist, allowed him to break free of the rigid rules for player numbers. That number represented resistance in the face of communist oppressors. What chance did Lou stand without Judge Houston behind him?
There’s a traveling band of men who attend Jagr games throughout the country. Each wears a dark, flowing mullet wig, and each wears a number 68 jersey from a different team. The effect when they stand in a line is tremendous, even if it's a line of urinals.
So, for Blues fans, the chance to see Jagr tonight is a thrilling one. He's only the second man to reach 1900 points in the NHL. He's 45, and no one would be surprised to see him play into his 50s. His line mates, Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, combine for a mere 44 years. Before either was born, Jagr had won two Stanley Cups.
Admire the hockey. Be awed by the man. There will not be a third Jaromir Jagr. The first was unlikely, but the second was a galactic event.