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The most indomitable Devil

Veteran Jagr leads club in scoring at ancient age of 41

Posted: 11/26/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Veteran virtuoso Jaromir Jagr leads the New Jersey attack with nine goals and nine helpers. The 41-year-old is still passionate about the game he loves.

BILL KOSTROUN / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Veteran virtuoso Jaromir Jagr leads the New Jersey attack with nine goals and nine helpers. The 41-year-old is still passionate about the game he loves.

NEWARK, N.J. -- Some players just go sour with age.

In both play and demeanour.

Jaromir Jagr, who will turn 42 during the upcoming Olympics, may have been there and come back.

After his three-year hiatus to the Russian-based KHL from 2008 to 2011, Jagr has come back to the NHL and been more than a useful player.

After 16 goals in the lockout-shortened season, this fall with his newest team, the New Jersey Devils, he's lighting it up, far and away the team's leading scorer with nine goals and 18 points.

For added context, his overtime goal in Los Angeles last Thursday was his 690th, tying him with former teammate and landlord Mario Lemieux for ninth in all-time NHL goals.

'... Most nights he's been our best player. It's just a matter of keeping him healthy and keeping him at the level'

-- Devils coach Peter DeBoer

It was also his 121st game-winner, pulling him into a tie for the all-time lead with Gordie Howe, and the 18th regular-season overtime goal of his career, extending his own record.

So what's been the highlight of having a surefire Hall of Famer around the team this season? new Devils goalie Cory Schneider was asked Monday.

Not the accomplishments or the skill, but this: "He knows how to build guys up," Schneider said.

Devils coach Peter DeBoer was happy to jump into the fray on this subject Monday.

"When (Ilya) Kovalchuk left in the summer, where do you find replacements for that type of offence?" DeBoer said. "I watched him in the playoffs with Boston, and while he didn't score, he was very effective, I thought.

"I came into the season not sure what to expect but that's what we've gotten -- most nights he's been our best player. It's just a matter of keeping him healthy and keeping him at the level."

'During the games, he's always ready to score a goal, always has his stick on the ice. He wants to be the guy you can count on'

-- Devils forward Travis Zajac

DeBoer's discoveries have included Jagr's commitment.

"Just his passion and love for the game," the coach said. "You don't play at the age he's at without it. Everyone talks about it, but when you see it, he lives for hockey. There's nothing more important than the game and being at the rink.

"You'd have to talk to him about why he found that passion again... but this guy walks into the rink with a smile on his face every day, appreciative of the opportunity to play in the NHL. He's bought into whatever we've asked him to do."

Jagr was asked Monday if last Thursday's goal gave him as much buzz as his first in the league, in December 1992?

"Probably, but I don't remember that," he said. "A different century. Don't remember when I scored the first overtime goal. Let me think. I think it was in playoffs. Regular season I don't remember."

Jagr decided to try humour when he was asked about his good start this season.

"Did you see me 15 years ago?" he grinned. "I was pretty good. Doesn't matter. It's just the years. I think it's changing. I've had better stats. And age, that's a number."

The Devils' 15 road games are the Eastern Conference's most so far, and Jagr was more talkative about his team's improvement from a 1-5-4 start. New Jersey's recent road trip, for instance, yielded two wins from three games in California.

"Probably what you learn, and we knew it before, is that we have great goaltending," he said. "All we have to (do) is score two, three goals to win the hockey game. Some games we were lucky, no question, but funny thing is, I felt the best game we played was against San Jose and that's the game we lost. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good.

"End of the season, it's equal. You shouldn't worry about it."

Winnipegger Travis Zajac, one of the Devils' alternate captains, said it's been "surreal" having an active legend as a teammate.

"You watch how hard he still works at 41 years old on and off the ice and I think it's good for our team to take some of those tips he's been giving us and helping us out with," Zajac said. "I think you just watch him and pick up on little things.

"During the games, he's always ready to score a goal, always has his stick on the ice. He wants to be the guy you can count on. You pick up on that mentality a little bit. Hopefully it rubs off on some guys."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2013 D3

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