On the eve of his 42nd birthday, Jaromir Jagr again showed why age is a pretty small number to him.
Jagr scored his second goal of the Olympics, Jakub Voracek got the tiebreaker in the second period, and the Czech Republic survived an early scare Friday for a 4-2 victory over Latvia in the men’s hockey tournament.
Jagr is a five-time Olympian, but he never managed more than two goals in any of his previous trips to the games. He got two goals in his first four periods in Sochi, and his steady play allowed the Czechs to hold off Latvia’s upset bid.
“I don’t get old, man,” Jagr said. “I am alive. God help me.”
Even if age has slowed Jagr or dimmed his incredible offensive skills — a matter of serious debate — he’s still one of the most entertaining players in Sochi, as evidenced by his goal against Latvia on a vicious wrist shot from the slot during a first-period power play. Jagr appeared to be the Czechs’ best forward in their first victory in Sochi, buzzing around the ice and causing havoc with his timeless flair.
“He just has that skill,” Latvia forward Zemgus Girgensons said. “No matter how old he is, he’s just an amazing player and it’s fun to play against him.”
Perhaps the only person at Bolshoy Ice Dome unimpressed with the effort was Jagr himself, who’s more interested in making sure his Czech team is a medal contender. Jagr is a member of hockey’s Triple Gold Club with titles from the Olympics, the world championships and the NHL, and he knows bigger challenges are looming.
“We have to wait for a tougher game,” Jagr said. “Today, they’re a pretty good team, but you felt like from the first minute, we’ve got the game under control. We didn’t play very well first half of the game against Sweden. We played pretty good second half of the game, so we have to wait for (Saturday’s game against Switzerland) to see what kind of team we are.”
Marek Zidlicky had a goal and an assist, and Martin Erat also scored for the Czechs. Ondrej Pavelec made 18 saves in their first win of preliminary-round play, bouncing back from an opening 4-2 loss to Sweden.
“We always feel good,” Jagr said. “We are from the Czech Republic. We are always loose, man. We’ve got always fun. No pressure.”
The Czechs also seem to have internal conflicts, but they appear to be working out. Coach Alois Hadamczik gave the Czechs’ second start to Pavelec after Jakub Kovar was chased by Sweden early in the second period of the opener.
Pavelec, the Winnipeg Jets’ goalie, is the only NHL netminder on the Czechs’ roster, but he was curiously scratched for the first game.
“Of course, I wasn’t happy,” Pavelec said of missing the opener. “But I understood. Nobody likes to sit and watch the team. I felt really good today, but the guys helped me a lot.”
Herberts Vasiljevs and Janis Sprukts scored for Latvia, which dropped to 0-2 despite another solid effort against a higher-profile opponent. Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan’s team has just one active NHL player, but the Latvians stood up to the Czechs in a bruising, aggressive game.
Latvia can’t generate enough offence to win, however. Edgars Masalskis stopped 35 shots for Latvia, which lost its Olympic opener 1-0 on a last-minute goal for Switzerland.
“Yesterday you could see it in the locker room that the guys were down on themselves,” said Girgensons, Latvia’s only NHL player. “It’s not easy to bounce back from that, but I thought we handled it pretty well.”
After Jagr put the Czechs ahead, Vasiljevs tied it early in the second period after a Czech turnover deep in its own end.
The enthusiastic Czech fans got nervous, but the Czechs went back ahead on an exceptional play by Voracek, the Philadelphia Flyers forward. Voracek had only one hand on his stick when he deflected Zbynek Michalek’s shot out of the air for his first Olympic goal.
Zidlicky then scored an instant before Latvia’s net was knocked off its moorings, setting off a bitter protest from Masalskis.
Latvia had a 5-on-3 advantage for 57 seconds late in the scoreless third period, but couldn’t get anything going against Pavelec.