MANNHEIM, Germany – Jaromir Jagr is starting to show his age.
Not only is the 38-year-old forward starting to go grey but he’s also wondering what has gone wrong with today’s youth. Jagr is disappointed by the number of young Czech players who declined an invitation to attend the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
“It’s the national team, we didn’t really have any success lately and a lot of guys said no in our country,” he said Monday. “Probably the top 25 guys said no and I think it’s too much. I understand the guys are injured or they feel tired after the season, but look at guys like (Alex) Ovechkin or (Ilya) Kovalchuk.
“I think you’ve got to be a little bit more proud of your country.”
The Czech team hasn’t won a medal at a major international event since 2006, when it captured bronze at the Turin Olympics and silver at the world championship. It finished seventh at the Games in Vancouver and has arrived here without several players from that team, including Patrick Elias and Tomas Kaberle.
The comments from Jagr came during a small scrum with English-speaking reporters – the first he’s given during this event. The five-time NHL scoring champion has been reluctant to speak to the media – even Czech journalists – because he doesn’t want to be the focal point of the team at the tournament.
Jagr grew up dreaming of playing for his country and cautions that the Czech Republic could be relegated to a lower tier in the future if more players don’t start showing up at the world championship.
“The game has changed, there’s no question about it,” said Jagr. “We’re not a country like Canada or Russia – if the top 20 guys say no, they can still put together a great team. We just don’t have those kind of players. And the players should realize it – you never know, because the level of hockey is getting better.
“You can see Denmark beat Finland (on Saturday). If your top guys don’t go to world championship, it might happen that your team next year might play in B group.”
Despite his concerns, Jagr believes this Czech squad has a chance to compete for its sixth world championship gold since 1996. He thinks Russia, Canada and Sweden will be the toughest teams to beat.
He recently signed a one-year deal to remain with Omsk in Russia’s KHL – deciding not to explore a potential return to the NHL – and had three assists in the Czech’s tournament-opening 6-2 win over France on Sunday.
Despite the hint of grey appearing in his flowing hair, Jagr isn’t ready to step away from the sport.
“The speed is not there anymore, but I still love the game,” he said. “Of course, I wish I could be faster than I was when I was younger. It doesn’t work anymore.
“As long as you stay healthy and work hard and you love the game, I think you can play a little longer – maybe not at the same level I was before, but it’s still OK.”