Ageless Jagr not ready for break from hockey

At age 42, Jaromir Jagr is by far the oldest player in the world hockey championship tournament yet the ageless winger has as much fun playing now as he did as a young man (Jonas Ekströmer/AP, TT)

MINSK, Belarus — Jaromir Jagr would much rather be in the Stanley Cup playoffs than at the world hockey championship, especially three months removed from the Sochi Olympics.

"I thought the young guys from Czech Republic were going to play," Jagr said with a wry smile. "Obviously, they didn’t. They took a break."

Jagr seemingly never takes a break from hockey and never stops smiling on the ice. At age 42 he’s by far the oldest player in the tournament yet the ageless winger has as much fun playing now as he did as a young man.

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"If it wouldn’t be, I wouldn’t be playing right now," Jagr said Sunday. "I want to have fun. As long as you have fun, everything is a lot easier. But you have to work hard, you have to love the game, and that’s what you do."

Jagr, who faces Team Canada on Monday night, is still able to play at a high level because of a unique mix of love for the game, Hall of Fame skill and a tireless, quirky work ethic. Signed on for another season with the New Jersey Devils, Jagr doesn’t sound like a man who’s close to being ready to hang up his skates.

Even now after 1,473 NHL games, 1,755 points and two Stanley Cups, he finds new ways to motivate himself.

"It’s a big challenge to compete with the young guys," Jagr said. "It’s not only physically.

"You have to be one step ahead of everybody. They’re going to be quicker, they’re going to be stronger. But I always have to look for the edge. I always have to think a lot more. Anything I practise, everything I do, I have to think before how to do it. It’s a big challenge. That’s what I like about it — just outsmart somebody."

Long before Jagr had to outsmart anyone, he oozed the kind of skill that made him an all-star early on in his career. For a very brief time in 1992-’93, he was even linemates with Dave Tippett on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"He was a very young guy," the 52-year-old Canadian coach said. "I think I spent a couple shifts on his line and he looked at Scotty Bowman and said, ‘No, next, please.’ "

At the world championships, Jagr is on a line with 20-year-old Tomas Hertl, who flashes the same grin on the ice for practice as his idol. Hertl wasn’t even born for Jagr’s two Cup victories in Pittsburgh, but as a very young boy growing up in Prague he watched every game of the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Hertl could only dream of making it big like Jagr, let alone playing alongside him.

"It’s unbelievable because it’s my idol as small guy," Hertl said Saturday. "I’m learning. I watch too many games and YouTube and his shot is unbelievable, too many goals."

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