Jaromir Jagr Helps to Raise Money for Ukrainian Refugees in Czech Republic

NHL legend Jaromir Jagr, who during his long hockey career spent about a season and a third with the Devils from 2013-14 to 2014-15, recently organized a charity game to benefit Ukrainian families who were seeking asylum in the Czech Republic.

The game was played between the Kladno Knights – a team in the Czech Extraliga that Jagr owns and, at 50 years old, plays for – faced HC Sparta Praha at the O2 Arena in Prague this past Tuesday.

As reported by ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski, the game, which was an Extraliga regular season game, was orginally set to be played in Kladno’s arena (which has a capacity of about 5,200). Wyshynski wrote that Jagr announced last Thursday via Facebook that his intentions were to make the game a benefit for Ukrainian families who were seeking asylum in the Czech Republic. Gate proceeds would go directly to those families who were impacted by the Russian invasion of the Ukraine and had come to the Czech Republic as per Jagr.

The O2 Arena has a capacity of 14,512 spectators according to Wyshynski and the game was a sellout. It had been officially moved to that site on Friday.

Wyshynski noted that the fans in Prague were united in their support for the Ukrainians, as they chanted and waved Ukrainian flags. He said that in the pregame, the Ukrainian anthem was played and players from both teams were “lined up together, rather than on their own blue lines.”

In addition, Wyshynski said that, using “transparent blue and yellow placards,” fans turned “the lower bowl of the arena into a 360-degree Ukrainian flag.” Fans also stayed quiet as recorded “[m]essages from Ukrainian refugees were played during the game.”

Finally, behind the glass were two Ukrainian flags with the words “Rivalita Stranou” written over them. Wyshynski said that this loosely translates to “rivalry aside.”

Jagr commented on his Facebook page that “I am very happy to confirm that everything was successful, even in such a short time. Now our only wish is to sell out the O2 arena. Buy a ticket and help those Ukrainian families in the Czech Republic!” once the game was moved officially to Prague.

Wyshynski said that once the game was moved to the O2 Arena, Jagr got in contact with the NHL and the league made a donation of $68,000 to the cause. This is a reference to Jagr’s famous jersey number 68.

As a sidenote, the story behind Jagr’s jersey number has a very personal meaning. It is a reference to the Prague Spring which saw the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invade Jagr’s native Czechoslovakia in August of 1968 in an effort to suppress liberal reforms being made by Czechoslovak First Secretary of the Communist Party Alexander Dubcek that year.

Jagr’s grandfather passed away that year in prison, where he had been for opposing collectivization of his farm when the Communists took over Czechoslovakia post World War II. Jagr has explained in the past that his wearing the number is not due to any ill will towards the Russian people. It is worn simply to show his disdain for Communism and its policies.

Getting back to the NHL’s donation, Wyshynski quoted commissioner Gary Bettman as saying: “Jaromir, for three decades we have marveled at your talent, dedication and passion for our game. Tonight, we salute your generous heart and commitment to improve the lives of [those] displaced from their homes. The National Hockey League is proud to support you and the great Czech fans in this effort.”

Sparta HC won the game 4-1 over Kladno.

Jagr has played in Kladno the past five seasons following his career in the NHL and KHL. He played in the NHL with the Penguins, Capitals, Rangers, Flyers, Stars, Bruins, Devils, Panthers and Flames between 1990 and 2008 (with Pittsburgh, Washington and New York) and 2011 and 2018 (with Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston, New Jersey, Florida and Calgary). In between he had a stint with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League from 2008 to 2011. He won two Stanley Cups in his first two seasons in the NHL (1990-91 and 1991-92) with the Penguins.

He finished his time in the NHL with 766 goals in 1,733 games – third in league history all-time. Alex Ovechkin currently stands just behind him with 764 goals in his 1,252 games played.

Devils Down Panthers in Jagr’s Return to Prudential Center

Jaromir Jagr played about one and 2/3rds of a season with the Devils, but made quite an impact in that relatively short amount of time. Even after he was dealt to the Florida Panthers right before the trading deadline last year, you still see quite a few of Jagr’s number 68 Devils jerseys in the stands at any particular home game.

Tonight, Jagr made his return to the Rock with his Panthers teammates. The Panthers have played well of late, they were looking to sweep a five game road trip, a trip where they beat the likes of Nashville and St. Louis, no pushovers there. It was a game that could easily have mirrored the Philly game in nature. The Devils, however, have been talking about coming out with better starts to games and they would make good on that tonight.

Cory Schneider again got the start, making a total of 34 saves. He was opposed by his former Vancouver teammate Roberto Luongo. The Devils only managed 18 shots on the night, being badly outshot 36-18, and Luongo nabbed 14 of those shots.

Travis Zajac missed his second consecutive game with an upper body injury. Bobby Farnham and Jon Merrill were healthy scratches for New Jersey.

The Devils had addressed getting off to a quick start and they certainly did. Twenty-six seconds into the game, Adam Henrique poked the puck into the left corner in the Panthers zone. He recovered the puck and moved it to the opposite corner to Mike Cammalleri who centered it to Lee Stempniak who beat Luongo to give the Devils a very quick 1-0 lead.

The Devils would leave the first period with a 2-0 lead when Damon Severson intercepted a Florida pass in the neutral zone and fired it up to Kyle Palmieri, who skated it in and shot from a bad angle behind the goal line at 12:55 to double the Devils lead. The teams would enter the second period four-on-four when Severson and the Panthers’ Brandon Pirri went off for roughing. Coincidental minors would open the ice up a little bit going into the new period and fresh ice.

While the first period was all Devils, the second period would see Florida climb back into the game. They scratched, clawed and did not give up, making the game a little more tense for Devils fans.

Forty-five seconds into the period, with the teams at four-on-four, last year’s Calder Trophy winner as NHL Rookie of the Year, Aaron Ekblad beat Cory. Jagr and Aleksander Barkov had the assists. It was Jagr’s first of two assists on the night.

With the lead now cut in half, 2-1, the Devils would look for a little bit of insurance. That would come courtesy of Adam Henrique. At 3:43, an Adam Larsson shot rebounded out to Henrique in the slot. He settled the puck down and attempted a wraparound and the puck beat Luongo. New Jersey was now up 3-1. The Panthers would continue to push back in the game when Jonathan Huberdeau scored on a snap shot with assists to Jagr (his second of the game) and Ekblad.

Some officiating calls came under scrutiny (especially from MSG+ analyst Ken Daneyko) in the second. First, at 17:54, Larsson was called for tripping Huberdeau on a breakaway and a penalty shot was awarded to the Panthers young star. Schneider stopped him, but the awarding of the penalty shot itself was controversial in Daneyko’s eyes because of the fact that Larsson was clearly going for the puck when he tripped Huberdeau and the tripping was incidental on the play.

Then at 19:40 of the second, Kyle Palmieri gave Luongo a snow shower as play was stopping. A fairly routine occurrence in a hockey game that Florida’s Erik Gudbranson took offense to. Gudbranson went off for roughing and Palmieri drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the play. The reasoning for Palmieri going off was a little bit vague, but Daneyko speculated that it may have been so that the referees could keep the game under control. No matter the reasoning, a very critical third period would start the same way the second did: four-on-four on clean ice. It did not matter, as neither team took advantage of the extra room on the rink.

It should be noted that the Devils only mustered four shots in the second period to Florida’s twelve. In the third period, things would get worse as New Jersey fired only three shots on net while the Panthers dominated with 17.

But, the Devils would eke out the win. Mike Cammalleri notched another multi-point game when he worked the puck out of the corner to Damon Severson along the near boards. Severson fired a shot that was blocked in front, and settled down by Henrique, who passed back to Severson. Severson saw Cammalleri at the top of the far faceoff circle and he moved it over to him. Cammalleri fired and put the puck behind Luongo to give the Devils a 4-2 lead.

And that was all she wrote. Florida pulled Luongo late in the third, but were not able to solve Cory any more. With this win, the Devils moved past the Panthers in the standings a point past Pittsburgh for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division.

The Devils next travel to Toronto on Tuesday to meet up with another old friend. Lou Lamoriello’s Toronto Maple Leafs will see the Devils for the first time this season at Air Canada Centre. The Devils had a rough time with the Cats but weathered the storm (largely due to the brilliant work of Cory Schneider). Can they improve on this win against a Leafs team that has had a rough go of it this season?