Jaromir Jagr on why he still plays: ‘When you love something, it’s tough to give up’

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It’s 2022, 32 years after Jaromir Jagr made his NHL debut. If you can believe it, the future Hockey Hall of Famer is still playing as he hits the ice regularly for Rytíři Kladno, the team he owns in the Czech Extraliga.

Jagr, 49, has said numerous times he wants to play until he’s 50, maybe longer. Well, in 12 days he’ll do just that. So why does he keep lacing up his skates and playing against men more than half his age?

He’s a romantic.

“Every time any reporter ask me this question, I know that guy never loved anything,” Jagr said when asked by Wayne Gretzky on Wednesday’s NHL on TNT intermission show. “When you love something, it’s tough to give up. I still love hockey and I sacrifice so much for it. I cannot give up. I still love it.”

In 32 games this season with Kladno, Jagr has eight goals and 19 points.

Jagr last played in the NHL with the Calgary Flames during the 2017-18 season. Since then, he’s dealt with injuries that limited his playing time back home in the Czech Republic. But does the 49-year-old think he could make it in the NHL now?

[MORE: Jagr on future: ‘I can’t say how long I want to keep playing’]

Not a chance.

“No, I can’t,” he said. “The game has changed a lot. To me, we all play in [the 1990s] and we all know how tough [it was]. Right now, I feel like it’s become more basketball than hockey. It’s a lot more skating, not much physical stuff. Not much battling on the boards. That’s what I love. I love to play in the corners, play one-on-one. Speed wasn’t any of my favorite stuff. I always practice because I wanted to be, not the fastest, but I wanted to be the strongest.

“To me, it’s kind of different hockey than I’m used to. It’s kind of like an All-Star Game when we played. Me personally, I never liked the All-Star Games. I understand what they’re doing. It’s exciting for the fans. It’s a lot more goals. It’s beautiful goals. They’ve got a lot of skill. But I’m not a fan of that game. I like a little bit of the rough game.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.