KLADNO, Czech Republic — Average attendance at Benatky nad Jizerou ice hockey games is 276.
This Saturday, they’re moving arenas in the city of Liberec to a venue that seats 7,500.
Jaromir Jagr is back.
Because Jagr hasn’t played since Dec. 31, the Calgary Flames released the NHL’s second all-time leading point-scorer, and he arrived in his Czech Republic homeland this week.
Under a scoreboard reading “Return of the king,” Jagr revealed on Thursday in his first news conference at the Kladno Knights, the hometown teams he owns, that he’s been dealing with a ligament injury in his right knee.
Still, he’s aiming to play for Kladno on Saturday against Benatky nad Jizerou.
His return has created a wave of euphoria among fans. Beside Benatky nad Jizerou moving arenas, other clubs in the league report their home matches against Kladno have been sold out for the rest of the season.
The 45-year-old Jagr is determined to finish a frustrating season on ice skates, not on a couch.
“I’m here in Kladno, and my only and main goal is to recover, get back to form as soon as possible, to get healthy and help our team to reach the playoffs and try to advance to the [top Czech] league,” he said.
There’s a chance, if he gets healthy enough, that he could be recalled by Calgary for the NHL playoffs. But that was far from his thoughts, he said.
“My first goal is to get healthy, to start training properly and be able to enjoy hockey, which I can’t do without training,” Jagr said. “If I’m healthy and train, I know that I’ll be hungry to manage something.”
He saw a local doctor for treatment on his knee as he soon as he arrived on Wednesday, and he said his first training on Thursday was painful.
“Today, I felt worse than I expected,” he said. “I was told it should get better but that it would be painful in the next few days.”
Due to his health problems, Jagr said he didn’t consider joining the Czech team in Pyeongchang for what would have been his sixth Olympics.
“Right now, I’m not ready. I’m not good, and I didn’t play many games, so not a chance,” he said.
Jagr was on the Czech team that won the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, the first Games featuring NHL players. He also helped the Czechs win the bronze medal in Turin in 2006.
He said he hoped he could put what has happened so far this season behind him, and “everything will get only better from now.
“I always try to stay positive.”
Jagr is second to Wayne Gretzky on the NHL all-time points list, with 1,921. He said he never cared about statistics but admitted he hoped to join Gretzky at 2,000 points. But it looked unrealistic now.
“Love, as I can see it, is the strongest energy on earth,” he said about the secret behind his long career. “I love hockey all the time. I’ve always loved it and had no problem to sacrifice anything to it. That’s the most important thing, a factor that helps you play as long as possible.”
But “then,” he added, “there’s the body.”