Holy water and potatoes: Stories from Jagr’s short but memorable stint with Flames

Former Calgary Flames right wing Jaromir Jagr waits for a face-off against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

CALGARY – High atop a rarely touched shelf in the equipment manager’s room at the Scotiabank Saddledome sits a divine reminder of Jaromir Jagr’s time in Calgary.

Wrapped with hockey tape, on which the words “do not throw out” were written by Mark DePasquale, is a 1.5 litre disposable bottle of water the Czech star entrusted to the Flames equipment guru.

“This is his bottle of holy water he brought over,” said DePasquale, smiling, as he pulls down the relatively full plastic container with Czech labeling.   

Jaromir Jagr’s bottle of “holy water” (Eric Francis)

“I don’t know what, exactly, he used it for, because he did a lot of things in private.

“I know he poured it on his stick, but I don’t know how long he expected his bottle to last.”

No one had a clue how long his final NHL stint would last, either. 

Sunday marked the fifth anniversary of Jagr’s contract with the Flames being assigned to HC Kladno, where he still plays for the Czech team he owns.

It ended a half-season experiment for the then-45-year-old that would have been forgettable if not for the aura around one of game’s most intriguing legends.  

In a remarkable, 24-year career that landed him second on the NHL’s scoring list, and third in games played, his ninth NHL stop was but a blip, as injuries and age conspired to leave him with just one goal and seven points in 22 games.

However, the impact he made in the Flames locker room will forever be embedded in the minds of those who felt lucky enough to share space with the quirky winger whose lifestyle and routines left them with a lifetime of stories.

“He’s a rock star, for sure,” said DePasquale, who treasured his interactions with a man he called one of the great students of the game.

“The first thing he asked for right away was a key to the locker room because, as someone who only slept four hours at a time, he’d come to the rink at weird hours.

“He had that approved from upstairs – no other player has ever gotten that.

“I came in with my son to get caught up on some stuff at 10 p.m. one night and I go out to the ice and Jags is already out there, and he’s putting my son through drills.

Jagr with Mark DePasquale’s son. (Courtesy Mark DePasquale)

“My son was 12 and doesn’t know who Jags is, so he’s like, ‘Dad, who is this old guy putting me through drills? I just came to shoot some pucks and have some fun.’

“He didn’t understand it was Jags trying to help him get better.”

Everything Jagr did was with an eye on getting better, albeit via unorthodox methods. Like potato therapy.

“He came into the trainer’s room in Dallas and he asked for a knife,” recalled Michael Stone.

“I was like, ‘What do you need a knife for?’ and, he said, ‘I’ve got to cut this potato.’

“We thought he was eating the potato, but he cut the potato and put slices on his knees to take out the inflammation in his knees.

“Never seen that before.”

Never before had Stone seen a player consume as much coffee as Jagr did.

“I don’t remember seeing him drink anything else,” said Stone, who admitted Jagr was the only teammate he ever asked for a signed jersey, which took ages to get done.  

“Oh, and his stick was, like, 14 feet long. I was like, ‘How is he going to play with this?’”

A notorious tinkerer with his equipment, Jagr was given a corner stall, where he could lay out the six or eight pairs of skates he was trying at any given time. 

“He had stuff all over, and there he didn’t bother anybody,” said DePasquale, who said Jagr was a very religious type who had a “shrine” in his locker. 

“Probably the worst stall in the building except for the one when you come in, but that’s the stall he wanted. In fact, we always call that stall the Jagr Stall.” 

Jordan Sigalet, who was the team’s goalie coach at the time, had a different name for it.

“The players nicknamed it ‘Sport Chek’ because he had about 12 pairs of skates, 20 sticks, gloves – there was so much stuff there, our coach couldn’t even get to the white board to draw something,” said Sigalet, who recalls seeing the bottle of holy water in there, amongst other things.

“His stall was like the guy from Major League, with the Buddha in there. There was always something going on there.”

Jagr told DePasquale he slept only in four-hour intervals, making it common for him to drop into the Dome three times a day – morning, late afternoon and late evening to work out, skate and dither. 

The ultimate rink rat whose obsession with his equipment saw him break the rules in rinks around the league with his desire to test the ice an hour before game time before instructing DePasquale how to sharpen his skates.

“He drove me crazy with it, but that part of him was genius because the ice is different from morning to night sometimes,” said DePasquale, chuckling, professing his undying love and respect for No. 68.

“He would just change his mind a lot, but he was often sticking with what worked for him, and I don’t mind that.

“He had a cross that he had blessed by the Pope, so every time he changed gloves, I’d have to cut that cross out of the gloves and sew them into the new gloves.

“That helped him feel protected.”

Constantly altering skates, blades, stick length and other equipment, the five-time scoring champ’s quest to keep playing knew no boundaries.

Matthew Tkachuk relished every minute of it, wanting to learn everything he could from the veteran of almost 2,000 NHL games.

Johnny Gaudreau was thrilled to have drawn the assist on Jagr’s last NHL goal, but wasn’t sure what to make of unsolicited advice from the fitness freak, who informed the diminutive superstar he’d never reach his potential if he kept subjecting his body to his legendary diet of junk food.

The staff all got a kick out of the fact assistant equipment manager Corey Osmak was drafted the same year as Jagr (1990), as were assistant GMs Craig Conroy and Brad Pascall.

The media and PR staff were never quite sure when Jagr would be willing to impart his wisdom, making his sporadic availabilities fascinating.

No interaction with the media came close to being as legendary as the night Jagr decided to surprise Sportsnet’s Ryan Leslie as he was interviewing the Travelling Jagrs.

“The craziest thing I saw was him wrapping his blade with mini-bands,” said Mikael Backlund.

“He hadn’t scored, and he felt he needed some extra pop.

“He never played with it, but he tried it on the ice.”

Backlund recalled being nervous when meeting Jagr, who he idolized while growing up. He eventually built up the nerve to ask Jagr to sign a few jerseys for him – a move several players made.

Having coached Jagr before in Dallas, Flames coach Glen Gulutzan knew what a big deal it was to have Jagr around, so for Christmas he got him to autograph jerseys for all the staff members, who were ecstatic.

“You heard he was different, and that he has a few things going for himself, but you had so much respect for him,” said Backlund.

“He’s an icon for the hockey world, having played for so long, and was such a great player.

“It was surreal he was here.”

So mysterious was Jagr, few are surprised to learn he never appeared in a Flames team photo.

His legacy here are the stories still circulating, including a tale about one of the players who may have poured some of Jagr’s holy water on his stick to try turning around his season.

He wound up minus-3 that night.

“Untouchable – I would never, ever touch it,” said fellow Czech, and Jagr friend, Dan Vladar, stunned to hear someone may have tried Jagr’s blessed liquid.

“It’s for him.

“I’m scared of that stuff. I believe in karma and that stuff.”

Indeed, the aura continues.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.