NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Talk about Olympic hockey and many people mention the Canadians, the Russians, Swedes and Americans, the pre-tournament favorites, or even discuss players like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Henrik Lundqvist and Patrick Kane.
The best story might be the Czech Republic and Jaromir Jagr. The man who carried his nation's flag into the opening ceremonies in 2010 in Vancouver is back for his fifth Olympic Games at age 41.
Many of the athletes competing in Russia this year might not have been born when he burst onto the international hockey scene as a teenager, or when he joined the NHL in 1990-91.
Jagr lives for hockey and the present, so excuse him for downplaying this latest accomplishment. He's focused on this week playing for the New Jersey Devils.
Always willing to laugh and smile, Jagr gave a typical answer when asked about representing his home country again.
"I'm already thinking about 2018," said Jagr, who was part of a gold-medal winning team in 1998 in Nagano. "I'm using this year to get experience for 2018."
The way Jagr has been playing this year, that might not be out of the question. He leads the Devils in goals (17), assists (31), points (48) and rating (plus 21). He has played in all 57 games, and is 23rd in the league in scoring.
"I'm surprised with how bad I'm doing," Jagr said. "I'm not playing up to my standards. I'm not happy with it at all. I know what I can do and this is not acceptable. To get better, I guess I have to score more goals. I don't score anymore. I've had the chances to score and I'm not scoring at all.
"If I scored more goals, we'd have more wins."
Left wing Dainius Zubrus understands Jagr, who has won five NHL scoring titles in his 20 NHL seasons and one Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's most valuable player (1998-99). He expects a lot out of himself and is critical when he does not deliver.
In some ways, it explains why Jagr — a two-time Stanley Cup champion — is still successful.
"He's still doing it and he's been here longer than all of us," Zubrus said. "I'm not surprised what he can do. Hockey is his life. It's the most important thing in his life. That's what he does. But any time you see an older player play at that level, it is a little bit of a surprise. To see what he's doing, what he's providing. If you see how hard he works every day, then it wouldn't surprise you.
"He works harder than anyone."
Travis Zajac centers the line with Jagr on the right wing and Zubrus on the left. He has learned a ton from Jagr, including what it means to be a professional.
"He has no reason to work hard, but he comes to the rink and he is shooting pucks and bagging himself after practice," Zajac said. "You realize how hard you have to work to stay in this league if you want to have a great career."
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