USA TODAY Sports Weekly

JAGR STILL AN AGE­LESS TREA­SURE

Pan­thers stand­out pro­duc­tive, durable as he ap­proaches 44

- Kevin Allen kmallen@us­ato­day.com USA TO­DAY Sports

Florida Pan­thers coach Ger­ard Gal­lant long ago gave up on the idea that soon-tobe 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr needs ex­tra rest to re­main fully charged.

“He told me early on that he knows his body,” Gal­lant said dur­ing NHL All-Star week­end. “He said when he doesn’t want to prac­tice, he doesn’t prac­tice. But he prac­tices ev­ery day.”

Jagr is the mod­ern ver­sion of Gordie Howe, an elite ath­lete who has cheated the ag­ing process to re­main elite much longer than other stars. He’s six years from qual­i­fy­ing for AARP mem­ber­ship, yet he is the se­cond-lead­ing scorer (15 goals) and point pro­ducer (33 in 46 games) on the first-place team in the At­lantic Divi­sion.

He is one of the league’s most colorful play­ers, with an imp­ish charm and dev­il­ish grin. He is al­ways look­ing to have fun.

“That’s why he plays,” Gal­lant said. “He comes to prac­tice with our kids for 40 min­utes, and when we are done, he stays out there for an­other 20 min­utes.”

His train­ing habits are dis­cussed in rev­er­ent tones. This is a player who will put in a full work­out in the middle of the night. He said he was dis­pleased that fans voted him to the All-Star Game be­cause he had a train­ing pro­gram planned that would make him stronger late in the sea­son.

“When I was younger, when I would fin­ish a game, I would have enough en­ergy to do a good work­out af­ter the game,” said Jagr, mak­ing his 10th All-Star Game ap­pear­ance. “I don’t have it any­more. If I do have it, it’s a lot tougher to do it. When I have days off, I try to work out.”

Jagr isn’t just sur­viv­ing. He’s thriv­ing. He has 21 goals and 51 points in the 66 games he has played for the Pan­thers since be­ing ac­quired from the New Jersey Devils last sea­son. It’s no mys­tery why he re­mains ef­fec­tive.

“His lower half is as strong as I’ve ever seen,” said Cory Schneider, his for­mer Devils team­mate. “His core. His legs. He’s a big, strong per­son.”

Jagr is 6-3, 235. Try­ing to move him out of the crease area is akin to stand­ing a sofa on end and shov­ing it through a door­way.

“When he gets the puck, he has the reach,” Schneider said. “He just sticks his butt out and there is noth­ing you can do. It’s al­most like a guy back­ing down in bas­ket­ball. You can’t re­ally de­fend that. You just hope that he turns it over or loses the puck.”

To­day’s NHL is about raw speed, but Jagr some­how makes op­po­nents play his game. “It’s more of a style from the 1990s — a pro­tect-the-puck-cy­cle-down-low sys­tem,” Schneider said. “Jagr has per­fected it and made it rel­e­vant to­day. Play­ers aren’t used to de­fend­ing that.”

Jagr’s dura­bil­ity is be­yond re­proach. He played ev­ery game for the New York Rangers for three con­sec­u­tive sea­sons (200508), left to play in the Kon­ti­nen­tal Hockey League and has played in 94% of his teams’ games since he re­turned to the NHL in 2011-12.

“Who knows how long he could still play?” Pan­thers goalie Roberto Luongo said. I think he can go for a while still.”

Jagr wants to play at 50. Chris Che­lios re­cently played un­til he was 48. Howe played at 52.

Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals coach Barry Trotz said re­tired play­ers usu­ally say they didn’t know how much they loved the game un­til they stopped play­ing. But what makes Jagr spe­cial is that he ap­pre­ci­ates the game now.

“He rec­og­nizes he is mor­tal,” Trotz said. “He’s re­ally en­joy­ing his time. That’s why he is so pro­duc­tive. It’s not a chore to come to the rink, or a chore to play.”

Trotz said he has heard veter­ans tell younger ones Jagr should be checked but never “run over” be­cause of his sta­tus in the game.

“There is a re­spect around the league,” Trotz said. “It’s not that you aren’t go­ing to play him hard, but there is no cheap shot. I think that is ad­mirable.”

Trotz has paid homage to Jagr in his own way. He caught Jagr with an il­le­gally curved stick for three con­sec­u­tive sea­sons. The fol­low­ing sea­son Jagr skated by Trotz and asked if an­other stick mea­sure­ment was com­ing his way. “I said, ‘Prob­a­bly,’ ” Trotz re­called. “But I said I’m work­ing with a char­ity and if you sign a stick for me, I won’t ask for a mea­sure­ment tonight.”

Jagr agreed and signed the stick with a smi­ley face next to his sig­na­ture. Trotz hasn’t asked for a mea­sure­ment of Jagr’s stick since.

Jagr has be­come a hockey philoso­pher in his old age. He the­o­rized the Pan­thers have the de­sired ros­ter com­po­si­tion be­cause they have a blend of young play­ers and ag­ing war­riors. Jagr plays with Jonathan Hu­berdeau, 22, and Alek­sander Barkov, 20, nei­ther of whom was born when Jagr broke into the NHL in 1990.

“I don’t want to help any GM, but when you think about it, when you’re too old, you ap­preci- ate the game and you’re happy and you do ev­ery­thing just to sur­vive the game,” Jagr said. “When you’re too young, you are ex­cited, you’re young, you’re very good, but you don’t even know how good you are. But when you’re middle age, I think you be­come more self­ish and think about your­self, and we don’t have those kinds of guys.”

The moral of the tale? “Don’t sign the middle guys,” Jagr said with a laugh.

FOL­LOW NHL COLUM­NIST KEVIN ALLEN

 ?? SERGEI BELSKI, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Jaromir Jagr is famed for his fre­quent work­outs, which give him a strong core and legs.
SERGEI BELSKI, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Jaromir Jagr is famed for his fre­quent work­outs, which give him a strong core and legs.
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