SUNRISE–The pre-game skate is a serious time for Jaromir Jagr. Making sure the skates feel right. Rotating through the four sticks he meticulously prepared for that game. Stretching by the boards at the blue line. Silently, intently, skating and stickhandling through teammates in the neutral zone. All done very seriously in a private world of meditation.
It was a little different Saturday night.
The last Panther on the ice received a raucous welcome from the 100+ fans from his country, many in Czech Republic national team jerseys,as he took to the ice for the pre-game skate. And he smiled, a smile of pride that only THE national hero of a small country of 10.5 million people can feel thousands of miles from home. It is a moment that few people on earth can experience as Czech citizens wear their nation’s flag like a superhero wears a cape.
At least 80 were from a Czech orchestra, others were groups of fans ranging from couples, parents and their children and the rowdy group of 25. Sitting near them is an experience. They exort the players in a strange language to English-speaking people. It is certainly done with the passion understood only by sports fans.
(Nearly a half-hour after the game members of the Czech delegation were still cheering for Jagr and the Florida Panthers).
On this sold out Saturday night at the BB&T Center, two teams battled hard for 60 minutes in a game that lead changes on each of eight goals scored. Reilly Smith scored two goals for Florida. While not scoring any goals, Jagr did have two assists, one which will be added to the highlight reels of Jagr’s greatest plays. Buying time with a player on his back then backhanding a blind pass to the slot which Jonathon Huberdeau buried. The other assist was a secondary helper on a power play goal scored by Aleksander Barkov, which boosted Jagr’s season totals to 23 goals, 30 assists and 53 points to add to his career total of 1855 points.
In the end, the Panthers defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-4, thanks to great penalty killing in overtime, and shootout goals by Nick Bjugstad and Barkov. Florida goalie Roberto Luongo saved his best for the shootout as he smoothly strung together two nice saves to enable Florida to claim the victory.
Scoring for the Flyers were Nick Cousins, Ryan White, Michael Raffl and Florida native, Shayne Gotisbehere, whose 15th goal of the season kept intact his streak of scoring goals that matter as all have been game winners or game tying goals. The exciting video from NHL.com can be viewed here…
Fox Sports Florida shared some of Jagr’s post-game comments in this video…
Before the game Jagr smiled. During and after the win his countrymen again were able to robustly chant his name.
Hoping to meet Jagr after the game, some Czechs were there until midnight. Did he sneak out some other door? Not his style. The answer is found on Jagr’s facebook page.
With the win Florida recovered from a horrible 1-3-1 road trip with a 2-0-1 homestand and prepare for three games on the road with stops in Brooklyn to play the New York Islanders Monday, Montreal Tuesday and Toronto Thursday, before returning to BB&T Center Saturday, March 19 to host Detroit. Tickets for Panthers home games can be secured through panthers.nhl.com.
Updated Standings. With four Florida games in six nights, Florida’s fate could be heavily influenced by the outcome of this week’s games.