Jagr practises with Pens ahead of jersey retirement ceremony

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CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — Jaromir Jagr wore a Pittsburgh Penguins’ jersey for the first time in 22 years.

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Jagr, dressed in full gear, practised with the Penguins at their suburban Pittsburgh practice facility on Saturday morning. Jagr made his iconic name in the NHL and won two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh, the organization that drafted the 52-year-old hockey legend No. 5 overall in 1990.

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The Penguins will retire Jagr’s No. 68 jersey before Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings. It’s the third number that will be retired in franchise history, joining Michel Briere (21) and Mario Lemieux’s No. 66.

“When you look at the history of hockey, he’s somebody that you’re always going to think about,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said of Jagr. “The fact that he played here, and had the impact he did here, and what he was able to accomplish over his career is incredible and I think we feel pretty fortunate to be part of this.”

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Jagr joined Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and the current team for the first time since a messy divorce in July 2001 when the Penguins, who were financially stressed at the time, traded the superstar forward to Washington.

Jagr still plays professionally and is in his 36th season, now with his hometown club in Kladno, Czech Republic. He scored 766 goals and 1,921 points — No. 2 all-time behind Wayne Gretzky — with nine teams in 24 NHL seasons.

“He’s a legend on the ice,” Malkin said. “Growing up, I watched him play. I was excited to skate with him. It’s a great memory.”

Jagr received a warm welcome back to Pittsburgh on Saturday. He was all smiles and decked out in Penguins’ gear before practice. Jagr, a former team captain, sat to the left of Crosby in the locker room, his stall adorned with his name, the team logo and a yellow No. 68 name plate.

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“We hope it’s the best celebration possible for him,” Crosby said. “He’s done so much for the team and the city and the organization. It’s well deserved.”

Fans lined the glass and packed the Penguins’ 1,500-seat practice facility in anticipation as Jagr stepped onto the ice to a loud ovation.

Letang and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic wore mullet wigs on the ice, paying homage to Jagr’s legendary 1990s hairstyle. Letang also shared a special moment with Jagr before practice started.

“I wore 68 my entire life, so he was one of my favorite players growing up,” Letang said. “I asked him if it would be possible to sign my jersey (Sunday) because it’s going to have his patch on it. I know it’s going to be a special day.”

Saturday morning’s practice was just as special for Letang and the Penguins. Jagr jumped in skating drills alongside Crosby and Malkin and quickly set the tone for practice when he beat Nedeljkovic on a breakaway with a hard wrist shot, much to the delight of the crowd.

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“There’s a difference between hard shots and heavy shots and (Jagr) has a heavy shot,” Nedeljkovic said. “Though I don’t know how legal that curve is. He can really put some heat on it.”

Crosby also took notice of Jagr’s first shot.

“His first shot, he went post and in,” Crosby said. “He made it look pretty easy. His hands are still really good.”

Jagr worked out with the team for about 15 minutes before leaving the ice. Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan said Jagr told him before practice that he didn’t want his presence on the ice to be a distraction with the team chasing a playoff berth.

Sullivan reassured Jagr that he’s an inspiration to the players, the team and the franchise.

“I know (Jagr) has a lot of humility,” Sullivan said. “It’s an incredible honour to be part of the celebration of his body of work. It was exciting to have him as a part of our practice.”

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