June 25, 2024

Jaromir Jagr’s reunion with Penguins celebrated as ‘really important to this franchise’

Phil Bourque was mad.

Everyone in Pittsburgh was.

In summer 2011, Jaromir Jagr had teased a potential return to Pittsburgh, nearly a decade after he was traded — as requested — by Penguins management.

A decade of angst over a jilted lover would be coming to an end, and one of the most beloved superstars in the history of the city would be returning and potentially finishing his dazzling NHL existence with his first team.

Then, he joined the rival Philadelphia Flyers, of all teams.

Bourque’s sentiments were like just about anyone else with a rooting interest in the Penguins.

“I was chafed,” said Bourque, a former forward with the Penguins and now a broadcaster. “I was hurt. I was ticked off when he became a Flyer.”

But time heals all wounds.

So does a plane trip to Kladno, Czechia.

A handful of years ago, Bourque took a trip throughout Europe and made a side trek to Jagr’s hometown.

Bourque mostly went there just to catch up with an old friend. But a sense of duty, as a representative of the Penguins, led to Bourque encouraging Jagr to return to the nest.

That reunion of former linemates led to Jagr trekking to Pittsburgh this weekend to receive the highest honor the franchise can bestow to its alumni.

A jersey retirement.

“I have a lot of pride now that whatever words I chose was enough to kind of open his eyes a bit,” Bourque said. “And open up his heart really and say, ‘Well, wait a minute. Maybe they don’t hate me as much as I thought they did.’ ”

That sentiment was abundant Friday at the Rivers Casino as Jagr was the focus of a celebration that included Bourque as well as former forwards Jay Caufield and Kevin Stevens. The event was emceed by longtime broadcaster Paul Steigerwald.

The teammates mostly swapped stories about Jagr’s legendary workouts and his quirky life off the ice.

Jagr recalled losing his driver’s license as a result of multiple run-ins with police in Upper St. Clair.

“Why (do) you make fast cars if you have a speed limit?” Jagr quipped. “That didn’t make sense to me.”

Beyond the stories, they were just there to celebrate their teammate’s return.

“It’s part of our history, and it’s important,” Bourque said. “Almost a whole generation (of Pittsburgh fans) have missed Jaromir Jagr. They don’t really know. And they’re going to find out.

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“What’s going to happen on Sunday night is really important to this franchise.”

Jagr addressed his messy departure from the franchise in 2001.

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