When Jaromir Jagr took the plunge, signing with the KHLs Avangard Omsk three years ago in Russia, he had made peace with himself.
I was a pretty sure back then it was the last time I would play in the NHL, said the soft-spoken Czech. Once again, you can never say never. You dont know what life is going to bring you.
Life brought the Flyers one of hockeys genuine talents on July 1 when Jagr spurned is beloved Pittsburgh Penguins to sign with their bitter, cross-state rival. He played 18 years in the NHL 11 in Pittsburgh.
A prolific scorer - 646 goals - who ignited every shift with dramatic flair, had wrists that resembled 2 x 4s and couldnt be knocked off the puck, people now wonder how much the right wing has left at age 39.
Theres probably a lot of people wondering if I can still play, Jagr said. Thats fine with me. Im not 21 and trying to prove something with my words. We have to wait and see. I can promise you one thing. Im going to give my best shot to play on a high level.
Dont forget. Im 39. I didnt come here for the money just to impress myself. Im not saying I am going to be dominating, Im not saying Im going to be good. I can promise you I will do all the right things to play.
Put it this way. Jagr later said he would not live in Center City but near the Flyers practice rink in Voorhees. Why?
I like to practice a lot, said Jagr, whose work ethic, general manager Paul Holmgren said, always impressed him.
I think Jaromir has not given himself due credit here, Holmgren said. Hes still a good player. He can still hold onto the puck and make plays. His shot is tremendous. His training regime what he does, weve only seen bits and pieces, its second to none.
From a role model standpoint, and what we believe he will do on the ice for us, its all good things.
Jaromir skated in Flyer orange Saturday for the first time with teammates as training camp opened. He laughed and admitted it felt strange putting on a jersey that wasnt black n gold or even powder blue from his Penguin days.
Hopefully, its a good, big deal for the people fans, Jagr said. I would appreciate it if they are happy I came. All I can tell them is I dont know if I am going to play good or bad. I cant answer that one. I am 100 percent sure I will do everything to play.
Being a Flyer will literally feel different, he said.
Flyers were always tough to play against, Jagr said. They had big guys, drafted big guys. They play very physical no one wanted to play the Flyers back then ... You knew it was going to hurt when you played against them. Thats what I remember the most.
On his first day of camp, Jagr skated on Claude Girouxs line with James van Riemsdyk.
Coach Peter Laviolette cautioned not to read anything into lines because they could change 20 times over the next two weeks. What impresses Laviolette about Jagr goes deeper that his skill on the ice. Its how he carries himself.
Comes back in shape, a great attitude and wants to be part of it, Laviolette said. Thats all positive. He brings a tremendous amount of experience. And offense. Thats exciting.
Jagr said this is a new NHL to him because hes been away so long. He doesnt know the younger players in the league. To his credit, Jagr admitted watching video of Giroux and other Flyers on YouTube and NHL.com.
He said it was too soon to talk about adjustments or how this guy or that guy looks on a line but
I wanted to see what kind of players we have on the team and how they score their goals and I was pretty impressed with those guys skill, Jagr said of Giroux and JVR.
Several times he reiterated the uncertainty of what he will accomplish but that he had learned something about hockey over his career: to appreciate what every day brings and embrace the moments that matter.
He said he didnt fully appreciate the sacrifice it took to win two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh (1990-91, 91-92).
When I came into the league I was 18-years-old, Jagr said. During the Communist years, not many people knew about the NHL. It was all about the Olympic and Czech Leagues. It was the first time I was out of the house and I was a little home sick and I wanted to go home after season.
And we keep winning and winning the Stanley Cup. I didnt appreciate what I won. I thought it was going to be like that every year.
Former teammate Mark Recchi said in 2004, as a Flyer, that it never occurred to him in 1992 that it would be 16 years later before he won his next Cup (in Carolina). Recchi retired after winning his third Cup last June in Boston.
Jagr hopes people will be patient with him during a period of adjustment from Olympic-sized ice (wider) to the narrow NHL rink again.
I wasnt here for the last few years, but it wasnt like I didnt play hockey and retired, he said. I was just playing in a different league, different ice. Thats going to be the biggest difference. The ice. Its probably going to take me some time to work out. Hopefully, its going to be quick.
While most of the roster has been in camp in August, training among themselves, Jagr came over late, attending memorial services overseas for players killed in the Lokomotiv plane crash. He was close to several Czechs, including Pavol Demitra and Josef Vasicek.
Jagr got emotional talking about the experience.
Sometimes life can be tough, he said. Everybody wanted only good things, but sometimes, life brings sadness. You feel sorry for the families and the players ... Sometimes you think that life is a little bit more than anything else.
It got me thinking also that it can happen to anybody, anywhere. That is why you should enjoy your life and every minute and work as hard as you can.
Its a work ethic, the Flyers believe, Jagr will demonstrate in abundance to every young player in camp.
E-mail Tim Panaccio at email@example.com