Jagr is rapidly scoring points as Pittsburgh's new teen idol

May 28, 1992|By Rick Sadowski | Rick Sadowski,Los Angeles Daily News

PITTSBURGH -- He shuffles his feet with great frequency, blushes nearly as often and stammers on occasion.

If Jaromir Jagr was as uncertain about his ability to dipsy-doodle around a defender on a slab of ice as he is self-conscious about his broken English and sudden emergence as a Stanley Cup playoff hero, he might not ever score a goal.

Fortunately for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jagr is as comfortable in a pair of skates as he is behind the wheel of a fancy sports car or with the joystick of a video game in his hand.

Jagr's spectacular third-period goal Tuesday night -- he bobbed and weaved around three Chicago Blackhawks -- helped the Penguins capture a 5-4 victory and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven championship series that resumes at the Civic Arena this evening.

It doesn't seem possible, but the 20-year-old right winger soon may supplant Mario Lemieux as the Penguins' most popular player.

Already the native of Kladno, Czechoslovakia, has replaced Lemieux as Pittsburgh's teen idol. Rumor has it that Jagr, who owns long, dark hair and an engaging smile, was swamped with high-school prom date requests this spring, all of which were turned down.

Signs that read "Jaromir, Marry Me" and "I Love Jaromir" have become commonplace inside arenas throughout the NHL.

So popular is Jagr, teammate Rick Tocchet said yesterday, that "a bunch of us will go out for a drink and he'll head straight for the video games. There'll be 100 young girls giving him quarters to play. They tell me, 'Get your own quarters.' "

No wonder he's always smiling.

"It seems like he's always happy," Kevin Stevens said.

So popular is Jagr that he has become the morning weatherman for the top rock station in the area, WDVE-FM. "Today ... partly cloudy," he'll say. Every weather possibility is on tape.

So popular is Jagr that when Penguins broadcaster Mike Lange mentioned on the air that Jagr likes to eat Kit-Kat candy bars, fans mailed in more than 1,000 of them. "I eat them all," Jagr said.

Jagr doesn't have nearly as much pull with highway patrolmen, however, who have pulled him and his Trans-Am over on numerous occasions.

"He doesn't really understand that there is a speed limit," Stevens said. "He's gotten a lot of tickets."

How many? No one is certain and Jagr isn't telling.

"Three in one week once," he said, smiling. "I've slowed down. Probably [the last ticket] came two months ago. The police know who I am, but they don't care."

Jagr doesn't care to reveal how fast he has driven, saying, "I can't tell you because then the police would be on me. A lot of guys, the general manager [Craig Patrick], have told me to slow down."

Jagr doesn't always listen.

"He's 20 years old and he's got a fast car. What do you expect?" wondered Penguins center Jiri Hrdina, 33, a fellow Czech who has taken Jagr under his wing. "But he's a good kid. He really doesn't get into trouble any more."

A first-round draft pick in 1990, Jagr scored 27 goals and made the league's all-rookie team a season ago despite culture shock that included being homesick and the inability to grasp the English language, which turned him into a bit of a recluse.

"I stayed in my house and did nothing. I know more English now," said Jagr, who lives with an American family and attributes his improvement to watching television. His favorite program is "Married With Children."

"I'm too lazy to take lessons," he said, giggling. "I like the Bundys."

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss. Chicago enforcer Mike Peluso spent most of Tuesday's pre-game warmup giving Jagr an earful.

"But I don't think he understood what Peluso was saying," Tocchet said.

Jagr understood enough. "A lot of bad words," he said. "I just laughed."

Jagr nearly cried after arriving in Pittsburgh for the first time and meeting Penguins tough guy Jay Caufield, who is 6 feet 4 and weighs 235 pounds.

"I saw how big he was and I figured I'd never be able to play hockey here," said Jagr, no slouch at 6-2 and 208 pounds.

Jagr has fit in quite nicely, as it turned out. He scored 32 regular-season goals this year and has been spectacular in the playoffs; he has 10 goals and 23 points in 18 games and takes a nine-game point-scoring streak into tonight's match against the Blackhawks.

"He's already a great player," Lemieux said. "He can probably be one of the best players ever to play the game."

Coming from Lemieux, that tells you something.

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