Jockbio does a great job with Jaromir Jagr’s bio. Below is the relavant info from his youth:
“Anyone who questions whether you can really “have it all” in hockey ought to talk to Jaromir Jagr. This is his story…
Jaromir Jagr was born on February 15, 1972, in Kladno, Czechoslovakia, an ancient town of 80,000 in central Bohemia. Jaromir’s father—also named Jaromir— was a mine administrator. It was a hard job with much responsibility. The pay was better than most workers, but the family could not afford any luxuries, and there weren’t many luxuries available anyway. Jaromir remembers waiting in long lines for many of the things that Americans take for granted, like fresh fruit, bread, meat, and toilet paper.
Most Czechs simply accepted this way of life, but the Jagrs harbored deep resentment against the Communist government. Jaromir’s grandparents had been wealthy landowners prior to World War II. When the Russians took over in 1945 and the country went Communist three years later, they were stripped of their property and allowed to stay in their farmhouse, but without their farm. When his grandfather (yes, also named Jaromir) refused to work his former land for free, he was jailed for two years. The elder Jagr passed away during the 1968 Prague Spring uprising, which was later crushed by Russian tanks. Jaromir is proud that his grandfather died a free Czech.
As a youngster, Jaromir hated living under the yoke of Communism. His heroes were Martina Navratilova, who had defected from Czechoslovakia to the U.S., and Ronald Reagan who vowed to bring the USSR to its knees. He carried a picture of the president around in his wallet. Jaromir frequently scratched the number 68 into his hockey helmet to commemorate the 1968 Czech revolution, and later adopted it as his uniform number.
Jaromir started skating around the age of three. He learned to shoot in his backyard, playing street hockey with his dad. He often took 500 shots a day. At age six, he was on three different teams, which meant he got triple the ice team of other kids. His stickhandling and shooting skills were superb, but he was just an average skater. When he heard that the country’s top players improved their speed by doing squats, he started doing 1,000 a day. Within a year he was the fastest player on his team.
By the age of 12, Jaromir was one of the best young players in the country. He began his junior hockey career playing against boys five and six years older. In his first year for Kladno’s junior squad, Jaromir scored 24 goals in 34 games. In 1985, he attended the World Championships in Prague as a fan. Mesmerized by a young Canadian star named Mario Lemieux, he thus began his dream of making it to the NHL one day.
Jaromir played three more seasons of junior hockey, and by the time he 16 it was getting ridiculous. He had grown to six feet tall and outweighed the other boys by 20 or 30 pounds. He was a smooth, natural skater who was too fast to shadow and impossible to knock off the puck. He skated around defensemen like they were fire hydrants.
Jaromir scored 57 times in 35 games in 1987-88, earning a promotion to the Czech national team as its youngest player. Within a season, he was the country’s top star, outperforming the likes of future NHLers Bobby Holik and Robert Reichel. He was also making more money than his dad, which was kind of cool.
Early in 1990, Jaromir and his countrymen squared off against Canada in the World Championships, facing the likes of Paul Coffey and Steve Yzerman—and beat them. That is when he knew he was good enough to be an NHL star.
Jaromir’s ascent happened to coincide with the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia, removing the barrier that kept Czech players out of the NHL. Prior to this time, Eastern Bloc stars wishing to play in America had to defect, leaving their friends, families and countries forever.
With the permission of the new government, the top Czech players made themselves available in the draft. The Pittsburgh Penguins selected Jaromir with the fifth pick in the 1990 draft, and threw him right into the fire.
Jaromir joined a team that had all the ingredients needed to compete for the Stanley Cup, except the health of their top player, Lemieux. Super Mario had missed 21 games in 1989-90—just enough to keep Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. Now it was announced that his aching back would likely keep him out until the spring. The Penguins had assembled an excellent but expensive group to support Lemieux—Paul Coffey, Bryan Trottier, Jiri Hrdina, Joe Mullen, Tom Barrasso, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, and talented youngsters like Jaromir , Kevin Stevens and Mark Recchi. Now they had to decide whether to sell off their high-priced stars, or let them play together in anticipation of Lemieux’s return.
Mario Lemieux, 1985 Goal
To their credit, coach Bob Johnson and team execs Scotty Bowman and Craig Patrick decided to let the healthy players learn to win on their own, and kept their fingers crossed that Mario would turn a good team into a great one when he returned. He ended up appearing in 26 games at season’s end—just enough to get his timing back.
ON THE RISE
During this time, Jaromir watched everything Lemieux did. He watched how he used his body and his mind, and how he could dictate the flow of a game just by being on the ice. When Jaromir encountered a new or confusing situation, he asked himself WWMD—what would Mario do? If he wasn’t sure, he would ask his teammate, who was more than willing to pass along any wisdom he could. The result of this relationship was that Jaromir started to sense when the team needed him to step up and take charge, and when it was smarter to hang back and simply be a contributor.”
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