SOCHI, Russia — The trademark grin was stretched so wide that it almost covered up all of the turmoil surrounding the Czech hockey team at these Olympics.
Jaromir Jagr, still a big kid at heart, is the kind of guy who looks at a problem and sees a solution. And the solution to this particular quandary appears to be leading the Czech team to victory on the ice, as he did Friday against Latvia, while keeping the mood as light as possible.
Jagr scored for the second straight game to open this tournament and was asked afterwards if he planned to do that in every game. The response? "Yeah, probably." Then he winked and walked away.
It was classic Jagr. Amazingly, when the veteran winger gets on the wider international ice surface he can still dominate a game. The Latvians had no idea what to do with him as he deftly maneuvered around the offensive zone and controlled the puck along the wall.
"He’s doing a pretty good job at sucking two defencemen on him," said teammate David Krejci. "Somebody’s going to get open. He’s still got that strength, he’s got power, he’s really strong in the corners.
"It’s good to see him playing like that."
This was a victory where Czech coach Alois Hadamczik acknowledged the error of his ways. He’s been under fire since leaving Jiri Hudler, Jan Heyda and Radim Vrbata off the Olympic roster and saw that fire turn into a five-alarm blaze when he had goalie Ondrej Pavelec in street clothes for the opening game against Sweden.
His replacement, Jakub Kovar, didn’t even make it to the second intermission before getting pulled. And the Czechs lost.
Against Latvia, Hadamczik turned back to Pavelec and restored a little order. Afterwards, the coach said the Winnipeg Jets goalie would also start Saturday’s game against the Swiss. Pavelec acknowledged that it’s been impossible to ignore all of the turmoil in the Czech press.
"We know, of course we know," he said. "We read the paper, we look at the internet, we know what’s going on. … We’re here, we’re focused for ourselves and we don’t look around.
"It’s up to us."
No one understands that better than Jagr — one of the finest from the last generation of players who still seems intent on remaining there in this one. He’s won everything and done everything. And he still loves this game.
"We always feel good," said Jagr. "We are from the Czech Republic, we are always loose man. We’ve always got fun. No pressure."
A gold medal remains a longshot for the Czech team here, but what a story it would be. Should that happen, Jagr will be a central figure.
Believe it or not, he will celebrate his 42nd birthday on Saturday.