- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Jaromir Jagr got past his first Washington hurdle he cleared customs at Dulles International Airport late yesterday afternoon.

The Beltway is next.

The five-time NHL scoring champion he has won the title the last four seasons exited customs after a flight from Europe, made his way through several hundred screaming Washington Capitals fans clogging the main terminal and headed for the toll road, all within 10 minutes.

"Before I got here I was wondering if anybody would meeting me at the airport, take me to hotel," the All-Star right wing said after surviving a bear hug from Ted Leonsis, the team's principal owner. "This will make me work harder."

"Ja-gr, Ja-gr," chanted one large group, drowning out another that repeated the player's number, 68, over and over again. The former Pittsburgh Penguin tried to say a few words, but he could not be heard.

The Caps acquired Jagr from Pittsburgh last Wednesday in the blockbuster deal of the summer. Washington also received defenseman Frantisek Kucera, who, with Jagr, was a member of the Czech gold medal hockey team at the Nagano Olympics in 1998. The Caps gave up three prospects centers Kris Beech and Michal Sivek and defenseman Ross Lupaschuk, plus $4.9 million.

Jagr flew in from Prague and probably will fly back within a day. He is scheduled to meet the Washington media this morning before huddling with team officials in the afternoon.

If Jagr is as temperamental and tough to deal with as he is reputed to be, it wasn't evident yesterday after being met by an excited crowd after a long transatlantic flight. Fans reached through security personnel to poke at him, and he poked back, smiling and laughing. He happily stopped to sign anything thrust in front of him and to exchange verbal greetings with fans.

"I didn't play my best last season," he said when asked what he meant by having something to prove. "I had more ups and downs than I thought I could have, especially in playoff. My goal was to win it all, and that didn't happen. I was very upset over that. Like I said, life goes on. You got to learn from the bad times."

The majority of those who made the trip to greet Jagr wore some kind of Caps paraphernalia, some of them newly made Caps home or road sweaters with Jagr and 68 on the back. Others wore sweaters that dated them, with names like Labre, Langway, Ciccarelli and Iafrate on the back, to go with new ones advertising Kolzig, Bondra, Simon and Oates.

The appearance of Leonsis was something of a surprise because the AOL Time Warner executive was said to be tied up in business meetings all afternoon. He was clearly overjoyed to see his latest star safely on the ground.

"I had an e-mail from [club president] Dick Patrick before I left, and he said we had sold 670 new season ticket plans since we announced the trade," Leonsis said. "That's just new plans, not renewals."

And the team owner repeated what he has said in the past.

"I said that our goal was to be competing for the Stanley Cup in year five," said Leonsis, who is beginning his third year of ownership. "Well, I think we have a couple more moves to make. [General manager George McPhee] has pretty much of a blank checkbook in front of him well, within reason. We're hopeful of achieving our goal."

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