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On Jagr, Fandom & Hockey Legends

Isn’t the point of being a fan to appreciate the players?

Florida Panthers v Boston Bruins Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

In every era of hockey, however you define them, there are a handful of players that transcended the sport. For some it was Bobby Orr or Gordie Howe, for others it was Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux, and for many of you reading this, it was Jaromir Jagr. By now, most of you know the transcendent, often larger than life Czech forward has almost certainly played the last NHL game of one of the most prolific careers in all of sports history. His exemplary career spanned parts of 3 decades and 1,921 points spread across 9 different teams. For years now fans and media alike have called for viewers to enjoy the last days his career while it lasted, even as Jagr made a fool of father time, season after increasingly improbable season.

The hockey fan in me has always been and continues to be a lifelong admirer of Jagr’s skill and persona. Honestly, despite doubts about his effectiveness I was ecstatic when he joined the Bruins 6 years ago. Despite his lack of success during his Bruins tenure, getting to watch him wear the Spoked B in person is one of my favorite hockey memories. More recently, as a rookie credentialed writer I made interviewing Jagr one of the top goals on my hockey bucket list. I was even set to cover the Bruins game versus the Calgary Flames on February 13th. In fact, it was the first game I signed on to cover despite it being months out.

Suffice it to say, despite the increasing likelihood of it occurring, hearing that Jagr had been placed on waivers mere weeks before my chance to interview one of my childhood hockey idols was upsetting. However, the more I thought about the missed opportunity, the more I kept coming back to how lucky I am to not only be able to watch the legends of today’s NHL era compete, but to also interact with players that someday will hold the significance to fans that Jagr held with me.

“You never know what you have until it’s gone”

It’s a saying we have all heard throughout life, at various times and in different contexts. It’s said so often that the point of the phrase becomes a victim of it’s own wisdom.

Those of you who are familiar with my writing or game commentary on players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron can likely acknowledge how frequently I mention feeling personally privileged to be a fan during the current era of Bruins hockey and how I try not to take it for granted.

Already, I have witnessed a young Quebecois kid named Patrice Bergeron grow from a shy, and at times awkward prospect into arguably the greatest two way forward not just of his generation, but of all time. I saw a free agent acquisition Zdeno Chara progress from an underappreciated talent to the preeminent defenseman of the post Niklas Lidstrom era. Let’s talk hardware, there have been Selkes, Vezinas and even a Norris, MVP votes and All Star berths, and most crucial of all, a Stanley Cup.

Somehow, despite all of this, at times it feels like all of this is often taken for granted in a Boston media market so conditioned to misery and disappointment that it seemingly never learned how to handle the suddenly vibrant sports Championship landscape.

Somewhere in all the negative coverage and ever increasing expectations for winning many of us forgot to stop and appreciate just how special the teams and players have been. While none have had quite the career that Jagr had, many have likely made as much of an impact on me in their own way, regardless of their age or skill.

While the NHL still has ample room to grow and improve, I’d argue that players today are more skilled, better prepared and faster than in any era before. As fans of the game, and particularly as writers we tend to romanticize bygone eras to fantastic levels in attempts to drive our narratives, while seemingly ignoring the history unfolding in live time before our eyes night after night. The games and players of today are going to be the legends of tomorrow, yet we’d rather argue over contrived controversy than appreciate greatness.

The truth is that, as they always do, another chapter is slowly closing in Boston. Tim Thomas and Claude Julien are long gone, Zdeno Chara is approaching retirement and once young players like Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask and David Krejci are now veteran stalwarts in the proverbial back nine of their respective careers. It seems to me that we as fans will have been conditioned to remember their careers more for the seemingly constant criticism than the oft deserved praise, thanks in no small part to big time sports radio shock jocks and click bait writers, whose success depends heavily on manufacturing controversy. At the end of the day, negativity sells in Boston, but only if you let it.

Someday I will tell my children that I watched Chara hoist the Stanley Cup while halfway around the world, screaming with joy right alongside the Boston Captain. I will tell them proudly how I covered milestone games like Patrice Bergeron’s 700th point, 4 goal, 5 point night. Sadly, I will have also watched prolific players like Marc Savard’s careers cut short due to injury, while others were ended by substance abuse or mental health issues. If I had known beforehand that my time watching Savard make fools of the opposing defense or manning his natural spot on the Bruins power play would be cut short, I likely would have made a greater effort to appreciate each moment of joy, defeat and the camaraderie with my fellow Bruins fans.

Maybe, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll be able to tell my children that I covered the Bruins Stanley Cup clinching victory or maybe the Bruins best days are in the rearview for now. I don’t know what the future holds for the team, but whatever happens, I know I will take more time to appreciate the players, moments and memories in front of me, because like Jagr, Thomas and improbable Stanley Cup runs, they won’t be there forever. Enjoy the ride Bruins fans, like the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.