Translations by Tomas Jandik
Excerpts from Jagr's Autobiography (part 1) - Lidove Noviny - 17-Sep-01
The first set of excerpts from the upcoming Jaromir Jagr’s second autobiography “Jaromir Jagr - My Years in Pittsburgh” (written by Jan Smid, published by the “Gutenberg” publishing house)
HOW I DID (NOT) MANAGE TO COPE WITH HLINKA IN PITTSBURGH
The arrival of Ivan Hlinka was met with a great deal of attention. He came with an excellent reputation. He played two years in Vancouver, so he had his experience with this league, and on top of it he managed to lead us to the Olympic gold. The majority of our team was European, so the fact that an experienced European coach would stand behind the bench had its logic. Before the camp started, he invited me to Litvinov. We went there with my dad. We talked about a lot of stuff; I felt he was worried a little and that he was relying on me as well. But I was worried, too. I had almost an exclusive position back in Pittsburgh. The coaches sought my advice regarding almost every single important matter, and I think I can admit that there were times when I simply stood up, went on the ice, and the coaches just sent my whole line to follow me. I knew that Hlinka’s philosophy is based on the collective game, and I felt some upcoming friction because of that. So that you understand – I, naturally, do believe in a good team. But on the other hand, the key moments are decided by individualities. And you have to create enough space for them to decide the games. So every player has a specific place in the team’s hierarchy, and one has to understand that. Hlinka didn’t feel that way and that’s where the problems started. First he took away my ice time. He acted kind of like [Robin Hood] – he took from the rich and gave it to the poor. I wasn’t able to cope with it, and the consequences of it showed during the play-offs. It’s interesting, though, that despite our hockey-related differences, our disputes have never resulted in an open conflict. Maybe it is because Hlinka has the ability to communicate, he always tried to find some common ground, and even though we did not agree on many things, I have never had a reason not to respect him. And I have also never criticized him openly.(…)
When disputes, then only behind the bench
We returned home and there came the “unfortunate” game against Philadelphia. The match that we won 5:2. I had a sole assist, and I was so dissatisfied with my performance, that I went to sit at the end of the bench decided not to go back on the ice anymore. When the time for our line came, I was still sitting. Hlinka saw that and he hooted at me “Go back on the ice, hurry up”. I was so angry that I just snapped “Screw that, I'm not going anywhere”. “Jarda, don’t worry, skate, fight, everything will be OK. Just go there”, the coach tried to plead with me. “I’m not going”, was my ultimate response, and so the disappointed coach had to send somebody else. Now I know that such a “public” debate doesn’t look good. Especially because it happened in front of my teammates. What was worse, even the TV viewers saw that. “The heated debate” was caught by the ESPN TV cameras. The commentators Bill Clement and Gary Thorne actually called that a feud and everything started. “Jagr doesn’t care for the team, just for himself”, were the papers’ headlines the next day, and I have been under a constant attack ever since. All the time, everybody was looking for some signs of problems between us, and nobody understood that I didn’t look happy when the team was winning. Of course, I was happy, but at the same time I wanted to play much better. It wasn’t that I cared more for my points than for the points of the team. I was bothered by my bad game. And also by the fact that Hlinka didn’t help me much. Maybe all of this doesn’t make much sense to you. Especially because I have the reputation of somebody who doesn’t follow, maybe even doesn’t respect, coaches, so there is no way how they can affect me. That’s just nonsense. In all those years in the NHL I found out that the most important in the player-coach relationship is communication. If the coach can feel the player’s mind, and is able to connect with him, he wins. And that’s true in cases of such problematic players like myself as well. I think that Hlinka was never able to realize how I feel. He wasn’t able to understand that. Especially in those critical times I needed to catch up, but he did not want to break our second line – Kovalev, Lang, Straka – because of me. Yet I just needed to play with somebody who would help me. (…)
I regretted that Hlinka did not back me up
After the Buffalo game I hoped for some quiet time. I had three assists, I was fighting up to my limits, and even now in New Jersey I did everything I could. I had hoped that the media would forget about me for a while. But I was wrong. And it wasn’t exactly my fault. It was just a minute and a half before the end, when we called of our goalie. I just came off the ice, I was a little shaken after the Holik’s check, but 30 seconds is enough time to get back – we took our time-out. Coach Hlinka took the pad with the picture of the rink on it, and started writing numbers on it. Everybody looked on it in disbelief, since every team usually has all those signals prepared in advance. When a particular situation arrives, it’s clear who will go on the ice. An assistant will hands the table with the names to the head coach, and he would just decide which variant will be played, who will go where after the face-off, and so on. And now Hlinka didn’t even manage writing all the names down, let alone giving any pointers for the upcoming play. When Chico saw it, he rolled his eyes, and said: “So I am supposed to take care of this, too?”. When they talked about it with the coach later, Hlinka explained: “There is no point in writing it down, what if somebody got injured?” Chico didn’t know how to react. He just wanted to mention that in those circumstances, one would simply cross just that one number and write another one, but he decided to stay quiet. But that wasn’t the worst thing. Hlinka did not write me down. Maybe he thought I had been tired, but he even didn’t ask me. I am 100% convinced that he just forgot about me. Not that I am excessively conceited, but this offended me. I just wasn’t used to such things. The captain sits on the bench because the coach forgot about him. We had finished the substitutions, and the referee had raised his hand, when Hlinka noticed it. He immediately started yelling at me: “Go there, go there!”. But it wasn’t possible at that time anymore, and the only possibility was to call somebody off after the face-off. And since we played mostly at their end, we couldn’t substitute. I jumped there just 30 seconds before the end. A little sulky, but well… We wouldn’t be able to come back, anyway, we were totally exhausted, and eventually I forgot about that in the locker room. I had no idea that all of this was about to have an ending, where I would once again be in the center. The day after the writers started asking why I refused to go on the ice. And they showed me New York Post, where the article said that I didn’t want to play, even though the coach was sending me out there. And the Devils coach Larry Robinson added that if it was his player who refused to go back on the ice, he would sit him down, he himself would take on a jersey, and jump there in that player’s place. I felt a terrible injustice. Once again, I was the bad one. I have no idea why the coach did not back me up. Why he didn’t say: “It wasn’t his fault, it was my mistake. I thought he was tired, I would have sent him there later.” Hlinka was silent, and the writers were kicking me down. Obviously, I could have said what the truth was, but I would put the coach down, and I didn’t want to do that. And so everything was my fault once again. All those bad things were simply sticking to me. But that injustice surely did affect me.(…)
I don’t know if he doesn’t comprehend, or just doesn’t understand it
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette once again started criticize Hlinka that he still wouldn’t understand the whole concept of line-matching. In Europe, everything is simple. There, you play the first line against the first line, the second against the second, and so on. Here, the substitutions start with the away-team. Then the referee raises his hand, and nobody can substitute after that. The home team has therefore the opportunity to send the line that will match the opponent’s the best. When, for example, the Rangers send Dvorak, Hlavac, and Nedved, i.e. the line with some excellent skaters who know how to combine, you have to put in somebody who can break it down. And conversely, if the other coach sends some guys that are easy to play against, you send your first line. It worked like this for ages here, and, naturally, it makes sense. But we didn’t play that way. One day, Primeau came to me and said: “I don’t understand it. They want Stevens to play against Mario. They send Stevens on the ice, we can put any line we want, yet the coach sends Mario anyway. So we create exactly what they want. But we play at home, and we sure could avoid it,” Wayne complains and asks me: “Couldn’t you talk to the coach?” I had already talked to Hlinka about it on numerous occasions, and so I answered: “Why don’t you go to talk to Mario, instead.” To be sincere, I did not know whether Hlinka doesn’t comprehend this system, or whether he does, but decided to ignore it. Once even Mario sent me to talk to him. He said: “Please, go to talk to the coach and explain to him how to make substitutions.” We talked about it, but nothing changed. Over the course of time, Mario eventually resigned a lot on his diplomacy, and before the last game he even openly said in the newspapers that we don’t manage the substitutions to our advantage. I don’t claim that if we managed this tactics perfectly, we would have beaten the Devils, but we at least could have made their lives much more miserable, if we were prepared at least as good as the Capitals were prepared for us. Without respect to the fact that the Devils had a better roster.(…)
He sees hockey differently, but I respect him
You were probably able to infer from the above lines that my and Ivan Hlinka’s hockey philosophies differ substantially. I will never criticize him, I do respect his work very much, and I believe that he wouldn’t consider some of the moments that happened, and that I just described the way they happened a personal critique. We both tried to find a way that would get us closer, and even though it did not work out, there is nothing bad between us. It’s quite possible that someday we will meet again on the same team, even if it were “just” the national team. I have never said that I wouldn’t want to play for him, and as far as I know, Mr. Hlinka has never said that he wouldn’t need players such as Jagr on his team, either. Wherever he went, he was successful, that’s irrefutable. I just see hockey a little differently.
(edited and cut by Lidove Noviny)
Tomas Jandik is the resident Czech on LetsGoPens.com and is a man who unifies all the goodies of the American dream - meaning, of course, being a Pitt graduate, a Razorback, and a Penguins fan.
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