Jagr bat­tles rust, fa­tigue in first skate with Flames

Simcoe Reformer - - SPORTS - Dona Spencer THE CANA­DIAN PRESS Jaromir Jagr laughs af­ter be­ing in­tro­duced as the new­est Cal­gary Flame at a news con­fer­ence in Cal­gary on Wed­nes­day.

CAL­GARY — Jet lag, al­ti­tude, a sum­mer in limbo and age all had Jaromir Jagr bend­ing over to catch his breath a lot in his first skate as a Cal­gary Flame.

The 45-year-old right-winger, who had ar­rived in Cal­gary from his na­tive Czech Repub­lic the pre­vi­ous day, was frank in his assess­ment of him­self Thurs­day.

“Not very good,” Jagr said. “I’m glad I sur­vived this prac­tice. Hope­fully to­mor­row I feel bet­ter than to­day.”

Cal­gary’s home- opener is Satur­day against the Winnipeg Jets be­fore the Flames head out on a two-game road trip to Cal­i­for­nia.

Jagr’s ar­rival in a Cana­dian NHL mar­ket in his 24th, and what he says is likely last, NHL sea­son is gen­er­at­ing a buzz in Cal­gary.

If he plays 57 games this sea­son, he’ll pass Gordie Howe for the most played in a ca­reer (1,767).

Jagr’s much-an­tic­i­pated de­but in the flam­ing ‘C’ may have to wait, how­ever.

“If I’m not go­ing to be ready, I think it’s not very smart to put me out there,” he said.

He has Fri­day’s prac­tice and Satur­day’s pre-game skate to try and get his game legs un­der him. Flames head coach Glen Gu­lutzan trusts Jagr’s judg­ment of his game fit­ness.

“I think he’s got enough games in the league to fig­ure out when he’s go­ing to be com­pletely ready,” Gu­lutzan said. “We talked about that and I said ‘you’ve got to let me know how you’re feel­ing.’ ”

Sec­ond only to Wayne Gret­zky in all-time NHL scor­ing with 1,914 points, Jagr said not know­ing if he would play in the NHL again made for a awk­ward off-sea­son.

He and the Flames didn’t agree on a one-year, US$1-mil­lion con­tract un­til Sun­day.

“I didn’t know if I was go­ing to play in the NHL again. I didn’t prac­tise with any team. I was prac­tis­ing and I didn’t see any fu­ture,” Jagr ex­plained. “It’s kind of tough, es­pe­cially at my age, it’s not easy for any­body to prac­tise on their own, but not to see much fu­ture.

“If I’d stayed in Europe, I would have prob­a­bly taken a month to get ready be­fore I play some games. Now I can­not do that. It’s a chal­lenge and that’s why I have to go day by day. Hope­fully it’s go­ing to come back quick.”

Jagr may have felt in low gear Thurs­day, but the in­tro­duc­tion of a fu­ture Hall of Famer into their midst was a wel­come lift for the Flames.

With­out Jagr in the lineup, Cal­gary had fallen 3-0 to the host Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers — giv­ing up a hat trick to Con­nor McDavid — less than 24 hours ear­lier in the sea­son-opener for both clubs.

“With Jags com­ing in here to­day, cer­tainly it gave us an­other day where I didn’t think we’d get this qual­ity of prac­tice,” Gu­lutzan ob­served.

“He works hard and has that ef­fect on a team. Guys want to show him ‘I can play.’ ”

Jagr skated on a line with cen­tre Sam Ben­nett, 21, and left-winger Kris Ver­steeg, 31. Jagr talked to Ben­nett a lot.

“It’s pretty cool. He’s a leg­end,” Ben­nett said. “Just hav­ing him be out there and give me point­ers, give me ad­vice, it means a ton com­ing from a guy like that. It was a re­ally cool prac­tice for me.”

Goal­tender Mike Smith was given the day off af­ter fac­ing 44 shots, in­clud­ing a few off the head, in his first game as a Cal­gary Flame on Wed­nes­day.

Jagr didn’t ar­rive in time to join his new team in Ed­mon­ton, so he watched the game on tele­vi­sion.

A five-time win­ner of the Art Ross Tro­phy as the NHL’s top scorer, he mar­velled at McDavid’s per­for­mance.

“McDavid is just too good,” Jagr said. “If he would learn how to score on a break­away a lit­tle more, I think he’ll score 150 in a sea­son. For him to score 100, it’s pos­si­ble.

“With his speed in this game right now, where you can­not hold any­body up, it’s very dan­ger­ous. Prob­a­bly Wayne and Mario ( Lemieux) were the same way, but you could grab them and hold them with a stick.”

Lary Mac Dou­gal/ THE CANA­DIAN PRES

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