Czech team giving Jaromir Jagr time to make World Cup decision

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TORONTO – There is an open invitation for Jaromir Jagr to join the Czech team for the World Cup.

But it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll take it.

For now, the 44-year-old is asking for more time to make his decision, which is why he wasn’t included in the initial 16-man roster released Wednesday. Czech GM Martin Rucinsky, who won gold with Jagr at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, is planning to give the Florida Panthers winger space to make his choice.

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“I’m not going to try and convince him,” said Rucinsky. “If I put myself in his shoes, I wouldn’t be happy either if somebody would come to me and try and talk me into it. I think Jags deserves a lot of respect for all of us because of what he did for national team … and Czech hockey.

“That’s why we’re going to give him some time and see what he thinks, how he feels, after the season.”

Rucinsky did have a long chat with Jagr last week and made it clear that he would be a valued member of the team.

There are a couple mitigating factors to consider with this situation: Jagr doesn’t yet have a NHL contract beyond this season and previously announced his retirement from the national team following last year’s IIHF World Hockey Championship on home ice in Prague.

However, he remains a remarkably productive player. The 21 goals and 46 points he has for the Panthers this season are the highest totals produced by someone his age in NHL history. He is also just one point shy of matching Gordie Howe for third all-time in league scoring.

Jagr’s international resume is just as impressive as his NHL credentials, with two world championship golds to go with his Olympic gold. He’s also played at the world under-18 tournament, world juniors and the previous incarnation of the World Cup.

On a Czech team that is starting to skew a bit younger – Tomas Hertl, David Pastrnak and Ondrej Palat were among the players named Wednesday – Jagr still has a place among his country’s best.

“Even at his age, he’s 44 right now, it doesn’t really matter,” said Rucinsky. “It’s just a number for him because he is in great shape, he keeps working hard, he’s a role model for young guys. Every time he plays for national team in any tournament he’s, if not the best player, one of the best players. …

“His presence in the dressing room for other guys there on the team is tremendous. He’s a very important piece to our team, but let’s see what happens.”

Basically, the ball is in his court.

Jagr recently indicated that he frequently flip-flops in his own mind about whether he’ll pull on the national team sweater again in September. The way the next few months go in Florida will likely have a big bearing over what he chooses to do.

“I wish he would play this tournament, but let’s see what happens after he finishes his season and he’ll make a decision,” said Rucinsky.

The Czechs will pick their final seven players on June 1.

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