It’s not often Czech hockey fans are blessed with names such as Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Plekanec and Martin Erat in their own domestic league. The country’s international success has been underwhelming in the last few years, so seeing these veterans take over the show can be both exciting and depressing at the same time. Saying that, the trio was still incredibly fun to watch, even last season.
Jagr, now 47, is obviously oldest of the bunch, but Plekanec (36) and Erat (37) are also starting to get up there in age. In fact, Erat already announced his retirement in May, whereas Jagr and Plekanec are still considering their options for next season. Both are likely to stay put in Kladno, should they continue their magnificent careers together.
Erat Wins Two Championships with Kometa Brno
After being dealt in one of the worst trades in NHL history (Erat & Michael Latta for Filip Forsberg), Erat’s past accomplishments never looked quite the same. His numbers were always great for a seventh-round pickup, but Forsberg’s sudden development quickly turned Erat into a villain in Washington. The speedy winger appeared briefly in Arizona and Russia, before landing a job in the hockey-crazy city of Brno, Czech Republic.
HC Kometa Brno treated Erat well and vice versa. From 2016 to 2019 Erat played 106 regular season games in the Kometa blue, racking up a total of 99 points. He was named assistant captain ahead of the 2017–18 season and got to lift the trophy in each of his first two seasons back in the Czech Republic. Three deep playoff runs amounted to 36 games and 25 points for Erat.
While Erat was tearing it up in Extraliga (the top division), down at the second tier Jagr was getting ready for his fifth and final comeback to Rytiri Kladno. The year was 2018 and Jagr had just been waived and loaned out by the Calgary Flames. His return to his hometown was a special occasion in itself, but it was made even greater with the addition of Petr Nedved. The legendary Czech center came back from retirement just to play against Jagr one last time, representing HC Benatky nad Jizerou.
Jagr Bringing His Old Friends Back
The battle between Jagr and Nedved was much anticipated. In the end, Kladno came out on top 7–2. The match was played in Liberec in front of 7,500 people, shattering the league’s average attendance of 300. Jagr recorded three assists, while Nedved scored one goal and assisted on another.
After the match, Jagr praised his opponent, who had been out of the pro game for almost four years already.
He was one of the fastest guys on the ice – not the best look for the rest of us, especially the younger guys! Either we need to step up our game or ask him, how he’s training! (from Laitataklaus.com – 2/4/19)From Laitataklaus.com – 2/4/19
Jagr, of course, is known for his rigorous off-ice training, but even that hasn’t kept him healthy in Kladno. Over a span of one and a half seasons, Jagr has played only nine regular season games. Luckily in playoffs and this year’s Extraliga qualifications, number 68 was seen regularly both on the ice and on the scoresheet. His 10 goals and three assists in 11 games helped Rytiri Kladno gain promotion to Extraliga.
What everyone wants to know, however, is will Jagr play again next season?
I can’t promise anything, but I’m also not ruling that out! It completely depends on how I feel. Let’s first see what kind of team we can build and then we’ll think about it. (from Hokej.cz – 4/19/19)from Hokej.cz – 4/19/19
Being the majority owner of the club, Jagr can also be credited for bringing in Plekanec last November. The Montreal Canadiens legend signed a rather unusual contract with Kladno, allowing him to play with Kometa Brno in the first division at the same time. Jagr and Plekanec are good friends and played together in Kladno during the 2012–13 NHL lockout. At the time they shared the ice with Jiri Tlusty, Marek Zidlicky and Tomas Kaberle.
The five-man unit was deadly and consisted of nothing but homegrown players. After all, Rytiri Kladno’s youth program is one of Czech Republic’s finest. Jakub Voracek, Michael Frolik and Ondrej Pavelec were the next big names to come out of Kladno after the Plekanec–Zidlicky–Kaberle era. Who knows, maybe Voracek and Frolik will also return to play in their hometown one day. Alongside a 50-year-old Jagr, of course.
Viljami is a Finnish journalist who began his career writing for Jatkoaika, the biggest hockey-specific website in his home country. From there he moved on to THW to cover European hockey more extensively. Both past and future NHLers are given the spotlight in Viljami’s articles.