Last night, a hockey player named Jaromir Jagr made his debut for the Boston Bruins, who were playing at home against the New Jersey Devils. Jagr (you may he heard of him?) scored the only goal of the game, a tip-in with his skate that no one in their right mind would ever call ‘pretty.' Pretty or not, it stood as the game-winning goal, and marked an auspicious start to Jagr's time in (this version of) the black and gold.
Much will be made of this game, and that goal, and rightly so -- Jagr as a player transcends any one game, in terms of his longevity in the league as well as his scoring accomplishments -- and another chapter will be added to his storied career. The Bruins chapter, the one that began last night, will very likely end up being a brief one; the balance of this season and the playoffs. But that's not how the Bruins-Jagr story goes, not really, not when Jagr entered the league 23 years ago, and not when (by his own admission) Jagr has no plans on retiring after the end of this season.
Like all stories, there's a prologue. And what a prologue is is.
It begins before Jagr ever played a single game in the NHL, in the spring of 1990. As Bruins players and fans began to recover from the disappointment of losing in the Cup Final to the Oilers, the hockey world collectively turned its attention to the upcoming NHL draft. There was a lot of talent coming out of that particular group of young players, but the Boston Globe had a firm idea of who the most exciting one was:
Vancouver has the second pick in next month's entry draft, and the Canucks are not saying whom they'd like to see there. Burke says there's depth in the draft with Owen Nolan, Keith Primeau and Petr Nedved, but the best player is Jaromir Jagr of Czechoslovakia. (The Boston Globe, 5/27/1990)
Jagr was on the radar, even in Boston, a city whose team had no chance on earth of drafting him. Of course, we all know how the draft that year went down: Jagr went fifth overall to the Pittsburgh Penguins, and in turn set up that team for success for years to come. It marked the start of Jagr's NHL story -- but not the story of his connection to Boston.
That story didn't begin until November 10 of Jagr's rookie year -- that was the first time he visited the Garden to play against Bourque, Neely, and the boys. As debuts go, it was fairly unremarkable: writers of the time remarked on the general excitement of the game (which ended in a 3-3 tie), but didn't once mention Jagr by name. He was held of the scoresheet, and failed to make an impact on the Boston sports pundits of the day.
That game aside, however, it was quickly becoming clear to the league and its fans that Jagr had the potential to be something special. Kevin Paul Dupont took the time to talk about him in one of his looks around the league in December of that year:
The Penguins have seen glimpses of great things from 18-year-old rookie Jaromir Jagr, their top pick last summer, and they're even more excited since last week's deal to get fellow Czech Jiri Hrdina from Calgary for Jim Kyte. "I keep saying he's a high school senior," said Penguins coach Bob Johnson, referring to Jagr. "Picture yourself playing in Prague by yourself and you don't speak Czech. We have to bring him along, and getting Hrdina is a real good step." (The Boston Globe, 12/16/1990)
The Penguins had every right to be excited -- despite some stretches with no points, Jagr had the makings of star. The stardom became more than just theoretical in another game against Boston, the second matchup between the Pens and Bruins that season. They two teams played on February 2, 1991, this time at the Igloo in Pittsburgh. Boston had just lost its starting goaltender, Andy Moog, and were instead playing in front of rookie Norm Foster in his NHL debut. The Penguins -- and Jagr -- took advantage of that, and of a Bruins team that didn't come to play, winning by a final score of 6-2 (yeesh).
But the real story -- and in turn part of the larger Jagr-Boston story -- was the glimpse the game offered of the player who would become one of the most successful of the modern era. Jagr had three goals that night, his first career hat trick (he would have another two against the Bruins over the years), and fans of both teams were able to see for themselves what Jagr had the potential to be.
In the course of fulfilling that potential, Jagr has played 80 games (regular season and playoffs) against Boston during his career. He's racked up 35 goals and 64 assists in those games, for a total of 99 points. He has had points for every team he's been on while playing against the Bruins, and as of last night, has a point as one, too.
Jagr's story is still being written; whether his time in a Bruins uniform will be as successful (by whatever metric you may gauge success) as the rest of his career remains to be seen. The 18 year old who scored his first hat trick against the Bruins all those years ago, the 41 year old who drove the net and got the Bruins a win last night -- I would bet dollars to donuts that the player who did both those things will leave his mark during his time here, as the Bruins chapter of his career continues to unfold.