[UPDATE: The game ended up raising over $160,000, which included a $68,000 donation from the NHL.]
Jaromir Jagr said over the weekend that the Czech Extraliga team he owns, Rytíři Kladno, will move its final regular-season game to Prague’s O2 Arena on Tuesday to raise money for Ukrainian refugees who have fled to the Czech Republic following Russia’s invasion.
Kladno’s was set to host HC Sparta Prague on March 8 at Rocknet Arena, which has a capacity of 5,250. Prague’s O2 Arena, which has hosted NHL Premiere Games and the Gagarin Cup Final, among others, can hold nearly 18,000 for hockey.
Jagr polled fans on his Facebook page about moving the game to benefit Ukrainian families.
“We would dedicate the proceeds from the entrance fee to Ukrainian families,” he wrote. “I would like to make this happen in the O2 Arena, because it is a popular and modern arena, where a large number of people can come to help. I would like your opinion if you would come to the match and help us in this way those who need it the most at this time.”
After receiving nearly 1,000 responses, the change was announced on Friday.
“I am very happy to confirm that everything was successful even in such a short time,” Jagr wrote. “Now our only wish is to sell out O2 Arena. Buy a ticket and help those Ukrainian families in the Czech Republic!”
Help -all we need is love pic.twitter.com/2PcU68xrw8
— Jaromir Jagr (@68Jagr) March 7, 2022
O2 Arena is actually HC Sparta Prague’s home rink, but Kladno will be the home team for Tuesday’s game.
The reason Jagr has worn No. 68 in his career is to remember 1968, which was the year the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring.
From a 1992 Sports Illustrated story:
When the Communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948, the grandmother said, they appropriated all the privately owned farms. They collectivized his grandfather’s fields and three quarters of his livestock. They left him with the house, barn and yard that the family still lives in today—Jagr, his grandmother, his parents and his uncle. (Jagr’s sister, Jitka, is now married and lives 10 minutes away.) Then the authorities told Jagr’s grandfather that he had to labor in the cooperative farm for free. His grandfather refused to work for those people who had stolen his farm. So he was thrown into jail, and he remained there for more than two years.
Jaromir Jagr, the hockey player, never knew Jaromir Jagr, the farmer. The grandson was born in 1972. The grandfather died in 1968, by coincidence during the glorious days of the Czechoslovakian freedom movement known as the Prague Spring. “He never knew that the Russians came back,” Jagr says. But, of course, they did come back, and Jagr’s grandmother made sure that he knew how, on Aug. 20-21, 1968, the troops rolled through Czechoslovakia to squash that fledgling movement in less than 48 hours.
Jagr never forgot. That is why he admired Reagan. Why he has an American flag in his bedroom and two decals of Old Glory on the windshield of his car in Kladno. And why the young Penguin star, the flamboyant and seemingly carefree spirit, handsome, athletic and rich, wears number 68, after the Prague Spring of 1968, the spring that his grandfather died.
The 50-year-old Jagr has been back playing for Kladno since the 2017-18 season. He is currently third on the NHL all-time goals list with 766. He is likely to be passed by Alex Ovechkin very soon as the Capitals star is right behind him with 764 career goals.
Follow NBC News for up-to-date coverage of the Russia-Ukraine conflict
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.