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.