Upon his arrival in Omsk Jaromir Jagr discussed his decision to leave the NHL, his feelings for the people of Omsk, his views on the KHL and his plans for the future in an interview on Russian TV station Sport, which was transcribed by by the fine folks at AllHockey.ru.
- In Omsk you are very popular. Is it not a burden on you?
- There are always two aspects in sports. If you play well, you’re popular. When things go badly, in a split second everything can turn, as if a wall comes up around you. It is good to arrive in a city where they wait for you and want you to play for the local team. And now it all depends on me and how I play and what I bring to the club.
- And in the Czech Republic are many children named Jaromir?
- I was named by my father, in his honor and in honor of my grandfather. And so this is not so popular a name in my homeland.
- Do you remember your previous arrival in Omsk?
- Yes, then it was much greater experiment for me. I didn’t know what awaited me, but I was pleasantly surprised by the level of development of the hockey infrastructure and quality of the game which already then was comparable to the NHL. Of course, at the present time Russia does not yet live up to the overseas league, because the majority of the best players in the world play in the NHL. But the guys I have seen here — for example [Maxim] Sushinski — they too are excellent. I simply know little about them. And to be the first here is very difficult. And with Omsk in general I have fallen in love. Here everything is cordial, it is customary to help one another, not like in larger cities with more money. It impresses me very much and reminds me of my homeland.
- What are they saying in the NHL about your decision to come to Omsk?
- I’m not particularly worried about it. The main thing was to make the right decision, because I played overseas for 17 years and could still go on for 3-4 years. So the choice was difficult. I understood that soon I will probably need to go to Europe more often to visit my father. And the love which I felt that came towards me from Siberia helped me decide.
- What’s you opinion of the KHL? Is it a competitor to the NHL?
- You have to understand that the history of the National Hockey League totals decades, even in my time there it expanded from 21 to 30 teams. It took a long time for hockey to gain its present popularity. It would be wrong to make comparisons with the KHL, which is just starting out. The start has been good, and I hope I will bring a worthwhile contribution. This is a big opportunity for players, teams and coaches to raise their standards. As for me, I always wanted and continue to want to be first — this is how I made my name. And here, in Russia, I also will try to show everything I am capable of.
- Alexander Radulov has also arrived in Russia from the NHL, but there was a scandal in connection with his transfer. What do you think of this situation?
- I don’t know much about it besides what was written on the Internet. In any case, this is his personal decision, and I don’t know what I’d do in his place. Therefore I can not judge. I remember, two years ago Evgeni Malkin left for the NHL before completing his contract in Russia, and there was no problem. Why now is there such a sensation? So we’ll see…
- Where will you finish your career?
- The chance that I will return to the NHL is insignificant, I would say that it is equal to zero. I had an opportunity to become almost an idol overseas, perhaps second only to Wayne Gretzky [in scoring]. But now that I have decided to come over to Europe it is unlikely a return would be possible. But I will not regret or look back; my purpose is to play good hockey here. I don’t know whether I will be in Russia for two or three years, but then in any case I will go home, to Kladno, to the club of which my father is president.
- And when will your girlfriend arrive?
- She’ll come later. I’m used to preparing for the season alone, to have an opporunity to relax. Especially since I will still need to go to the Czech Republic for a couple of exhibition matches. Later, when the season starts, I will have more free time, and we can spend time with each other.
Then there’s this revelation, brought to us by Soviet Sport writer Pavel Lysenkov, who shadowed Jagr though his first day and a half in Omsk as background for an amusing article on the Czech’s arrival. Lysenkov got the bright idea of calling Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin, curious to know what two superstars would talk about. After the two exchanged pleasantries, he uncovered the real reason Jagr left the NHL:
- “How long will you play in Russia?” [Ovechkin asked.]
- “Two years. Then I will return to the Czech Republic. You have to understand, I can’t play in the NHL anymore. You are much better than me. What am I to do in a league where Ovechkin scores 65 goals, and I only score 25? I was so bad that I had to leave like a real man.” Jagr practically falls of his chair with laughter. Sasha [Ovechkin] laughs along with him. “If you could score just 40 goals, and I 30, then it would have made sense for me to stay for another year. But now I understand that there is nothing more for me to do in NHL. There is Ovechkin.”
It appears Jagr’s sense of humor remains firmly in place.
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