jaromir jagr: how I’ll tame you today, you plain of ice

Jaromir Jagr’s long lustrous NHL career ended yesterday with a waive. Offered up on Sunday by the Calgary Flames to any team that might want to take him on, the 45-year-old Czech winger went unclaimed, leaving the Flames free to loan him to HC Kladno of the Czech League — his hometown team and one he happens to co-own.

It’s not a proper farewell for a player so (as The Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur wrote yesterday) preposterously talented, so outrageously coiffed, so effective for so long, so fun to watch. He deserves better. I’d read Arthur’s ode to him, if I were you. Then, if I (which is to say you) were still in a reading mood, I’d circle back to the Jagresque oral history that Kristina Rutherford, Ryan Dixon, and Gare Joyce put together for Sportsnet a couple of years ago — you would, I mean. You wouldn’t stop there, either: next up, necessarily, would be Rob Vollman’s statistical overview of Jagr’s career at NHL.com. Supplemented, maybe, by a look to ESPN’s review of some of the man’s amazing numbers? That’s on you.

I’m especially fond of some math that ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan reporter tosses into her appreciation of number 68. “Jagr,” she writes, “has reportedly been doing 1,000 squats per day since he was seven years old. That means he has done nearly 14 million squats.”

I can’t improve on that, but I can keep going with the reading recommendations. Browsing the Jagr bibliography, you’ll find Petr Cermak’s Člověk Jágr: Hokejova Bible (2003) and Jagr: An Autobiography (1997), the man’s own testament of himself, written with Jan Smid’s help.

Intrigued as I am by the title of the former — Jagr Man: The Hockey Bible is the translation I’m getting — I lack the Czech to get through it. The latter I’ve really only browsed. Again it’s a frivolous stat I’d like to draw your attention to: writing about fan mail in the pages of his memoir, Jagr mentions the 1,000 or so letters he was receiving a month, and how his mother did her best to answer them all. “Every letter I receive means a lot to me,” 21-years-go-Jagr writes, “even if I have to admit I don’t finish reading all of them. Sometimes a single letter will be about ten pages long, but I almost never get past the third page.”

This is a while ago, of course, and I’m assuming that the 1,000 is a number that can’t have remained consistent over the years, especially in these post-stamp times we live in. That doesn’t mean we can’t spin up some imaginary totals. If the mail did keep up, month after month, for all of Jagr’s 24 NHL seasons, he and his mother would be looking at a truly impressive career postal accumulation of some 288,000 notional letters.

Finally, can any haphazard miscellany of Jagriana really be counted complete without referencing everybody’s favourite hockey opera? I’m saying no, it can’t. It may be the only hockey opera, actually. As Czechs remember (and Canadians try not to), Canada didn’t win the gold medal at the 1998 Olympics in Japan, the Czechs did, beating Canada and Russia in succession. The operatic version, by composer Martin Smolka abetted by librettist Jaroslav Dusek, premiered in 2004 in Prague: it’s called Nagano. “At first glance there is a contradiction here,” Smolka has noted, “the aristocratic genre of opera” juxtaposed with hockey’s “profane spectacle with maximum appeal to the masses, with sweat, violence, yelling, and crudity.”

Does it work? It’s something to behold is what I’ll say here. Watch some of it, if you will. A couple of translated excerpts seem like they’re in order here, starting with operatic-Jaromir Jagr joining in duet with Ice Rink, sung by a women’s chorus:

JAGR:
What a chilly, chilly plain of ice.

ICE RINK (women’s chorus):
You’re mine, I’m yours. Mine, yours.

JAGR:
You can be treacherous, treacherous, oh plain of ice!

ICE RINK:
Jaromir is shivering and trembling.

JAGR:
How I’ll tame you today, you plain of ice!

ICE RINK:
You’ll writhe like a snake. What, are you afraid? Are you afraid you will have to give up the ghost?

JAGR:
In the NHL the rink is thirty meters at most. Chilly, treacherous.

ICE RINK:
Wrah-ee-ah-ee-ah-eethe

JAGR:
Treacherous plain.

ICE RINK:
My hero, my hero, my hero, mine, mine.

Later, as actual-Jagr did in 1998, opera-Jagr heads out at the end of the semi-final shootout to face a Canadian goaltender in the shoot-out. In life as in dramatic composition, he hit the post.

COACH:
Jagr!!!

JAGR:
I am Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-ne, ne-ne, never never fear.

JAGR:
I am Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-ne-ne, never…

JAGR:
I, I, I Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-, never, never, ne…

JAGR:
I am, I, I Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne- ne-, never, fea- fea- fea- fear.

JAGR:
I, I, I Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-, never, never, fea-fea-fear.

JAGR:
I am Jagr.

CANADIAN GOALKEEPER:
Ne-ne- never.

JAGR:
I am I!

 

 

strach’s gretz

gretz sweater

Number of sticks Strach says Wayne Gretzky gave away each year of his career: 700.

According to Strach, autographs Gretzky signed each day during that same career: 200.

Strach? Gretzky’s pal Al Strachan, former sportswriter for The Globe and Mail and Toronto’s Sun, whose new book, 99, contains many pieces of information that you didn’t know not to mention all the quotes you’ve never heard.

How many pieces? Thousands, Strach says.

Quotes? An equal number.

Number of sticks all those giveaways add up to, mathwise, over Gretzky’s 30-year professional career: 14,000.

Autographs: 1,460,000.

Assistance Gretzky gave to Strach over the years: Virtually limitless.

Frequency with which Strach says he’s made fun of Gretzky face-to-face: Often.

And in print? Never.

Number of temper tantrums Gretzky has had, ever, it says here: Zero.

Number of jabs, digs, and/or sneers, both head-on and side-swiping, of which NHL commissioner Gray Bettman is the target: 6, at least.

Vertebrae Gretzky injured in his career: T6, C5.

Age at which he started skating: 2 ½.

Number of goals he scored in his first year playing organized hockey: 1.

Number of goals he scored in his fifth year: 378.

Number of chin-ups Gretzky can do: 2.

Unflattering references herein to former NHL president John Ziegler: 1.

Plenty of disdain for, also: Stan Fischler, Brian Burke, the media sharks, Andy Murray, Pat Quinn, Ed Snider, Chris Gratton, Marc Crawford, Bob Nicholson.

Price Gretzky paid for his first car, a used Pontiac Trans-Am, in 1978: $3,800.

Amount of Gretzky’s signing bonus that year from the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA: $25,000.

Amount Toronto GM Cliff Fletcher offered Gretzky in 1996 to sign with the Leafs: $3 million a year.

Guy who nixed the deal: Leafs’ owner Steve Stavro.

Other team Gretzky was willing to sign with, except for they blew it: Vancouver.

Blame: Pat Quinn.

What anyone who knows Gretzky at all knows about the notion that he’d risk his reputation for a relatively small endorsement fee from a stick manufacturer, or ever get involved in sports betting: He never would.

What Marty McSorley used to let other teams know: “You go after Gretz and you’re going to get hurt. You may get hurt so bad that I’ll get suspended, but I don’t care. You should, though.”

Dave Semenko’s preferred method to deliver the same message: “A stony — and scary — glare.”

Cost, per person, to participate in Gretzky’s summertime Las Vegas fantasy camp with which he raises money for the good causes supported by his foundation: $11,999.

The craziest thing about pro sports, according to Gretzky: “If you don’t play with confidence, you can’t play.”

Theoren Fleury’s (possibly derisive) thoughts on the 1998 Olympic semi-final in which Canada lost in a shoot-out to the Czech Republic: “Perhaps next time, they can set up a Scrabble board at centre ice and we’ll play Scrabble to see who wins.”

Whether he admits it or not, guy responsible for not selecting Gretzky to shoot in that crushing loss: Marc Crawford.

What Gretzky says: “I really don’t believe I would have made any difference.”

According to Strach, number of goals/points Gretzky would register in a season if he were playing in today’s NHL: 130, 300.

Gretzky’s Q score: the highest of any hockey player.

His impression of Queen Elizabeth II? “Really nice.”

Number of days he works as a spokesman for TD Bank: 10/year.

Does he favour enlarging hockey’s net, to help with scoring? “No chance. That would be criminal.”

Thoughts on head hits and the scourge of concussions? Not included.

Whether there’s a place in the game for fighting? No comment.

Number of times it should be mentioned (and is) that Gretzky is a better human being than he ever was a hockey player: Twice.

99 
Gretzky: His Game, His Story
Al Strachan, assisted by Wayne Gretzky
(Fenn/M&S, 324 pp., $32.95)

(Photo courtesy of The Want List http://www.flickr.com/photos/hockeymedia/)