CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. (AP) - Jaromir Jagr sat at his locker at the Florida Panthers training facility for a few seconds in silence, processing his answer. The question was about how often does he think about the Stanley Cup when he’s putting himself through his workout regimen, if hockey’s biggest prize is always in mind.
Finally, he spoke.
“I don’t,” Jagr said. “When I work, I’m doing it for the next day.”
It might seem like a simple approach, but it’s one that obviously works for Jagr. The Panthers’ leading scorer this season is 44 years old, has gray in his beard, enjoys late-night skating sessions by himself, invents locker-room workouts that teammates participate in even though they don’t fully understand why, and has been known to consume about a gallon of coffee per day.
Here’s the results so far from his only full season in Florida: A franchise-record 12-game winning streak, a franchise-record 47 wins, a franchise-record 103 points. And now he’s going to the playoffs for the 18th time, that journey starting Thursday night when the Panthers play host to the New York Islanders in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
“We worked all year for it, to finally get the playoffs here,” Jagr said. “Now we have a chance to finally do something.”
It’s a neat storyline, Jagr facing the Islanders again in the playoffs. They’ve met once before, the Islanders upsetting Jagr’s Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games and denying them a chance at what could have been a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
That was 23 years ago. The Islanders haven’t won a series since.
Jagr wouldn’t mind keeping it that way for at least another year.
“He’s been in the league so many years, such a veteran, played so many games, I think he’s going to approach it no different than any regular season game,” Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad said. “Obviously, the mindset is kind of do-or-die in the playoffs. But he’s that experienced, that mentally tough, he’ll do his thing. I think he’s going to be a big help to us younger guys on how to approach it, how to handle it.”
Bjugstad stands 6-foot-6, three inches taller than Jagr. When Jagr came to the Panthers, Bjugstad decided it would be a good idea to try to learn as much as possible, including how to flourish as a bigger forward in the game.
He had no idea what sort of lessons were coming.
“A lot of little things that I would have never thought of,” Bjugstad said. “Even skate sharpening, how to curve it so you can keep yourself balanced in the corners. The guy is a guru in a lot of different areas. I’ve picked his brain on a lot of stuff, he’s more than willing to share and it’s definitely great having him in the locker room.”
Luckily in that regard, Jagr can usually be found right there - in the locker room.
The No. 3 scorer in NHL history is one of the first to show up in the mornings, teammates say, if not the first. He’s also one of the last to leave, and when he does leave the arena after game nights it’s not unusual for him to go to the practice facility for an extra skate. He cannot get enough of the game, which is why he’s still playing.
“We’re all to a certain extent married to the game, but that saying goes to a different level with him,” Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “He’s married to the game. He’s committed his whole life to it. It’s amazing to see the commitment that he has. Everything he does is to make himself better on the ice, to make him perform better. He just loves it so much that he’s always here.”
The Panthers have never won the Stanley Cup - in fact, they haven’t even won a series since 1996, and that came at Jagr’s expense as well. Jagr has held the Cup twice, with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992.
He doesn’t play because he’s consumed by the thought of taking a third victory lap. He plays only because it’s what he still wants.
“Awards, trophies, that is not my motivation,” Jagr said. “It never has been. I love this sport. It’s my job, and that’s enough.”
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