JINCHEON -- They were once teammates in the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. One is coaching the South Korean men's national team, and the other is still playing in the National Hockey League.
And if it all goes right, Jim Paek and Jaromir Jagr will be reunited at next year's Winter Olympics in South Korea -- Paek as the South Korean bench boss, and Jagr as a Czech Republic player in the group stage.
And Paek was practically giddy when reminded of that possibility.
|Jim Paek (L), currently head coach of the South Korean men's national hockey team, and Jaromir Jagr of the Florida Panthers could be reunited at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Paek and Jagr were teammates on the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1991 to 1994. (Yonhap/AP)|
"That's fantastic. I'd love to see him," Paek told Yonhap News Agency Monday at the Jincheon National Training Center in Jincheon, North Chungcheong Province. The national team opened its 11-week, off-ice training camp there. In addition to the sixth-ranked Czech Republic, South Korea, world No. 23, will face Canada, the undisputed world No. 1 and two-time reigning Olympic champion, and No. 7 Switzerland at the PyeongChang Winter Games. It will be South Korea's first Olympic appearance.
Paek and Jagr were teammates on the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992. Paek, who was born in South Korea but moved to Canada when he was one, was a 23-year-old rookie defenseman after six seasons in the minors. Jagr was a more highly touted prospect, as the fifth overall pick in the 1990 draft. At just 18, Jagr scored 27 goals in 80 regular season games in the 1991-1992 season to earn a spot on the NHL All-Rookie Team.
Paek was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in February 1994 and the two never played together again. Paek last played in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators in 1995, while Jagr, the ageless wonder at 45, is still a productive NHL forward for the Florida Panthers. He scored 46 points (16 goals and 30 assists) this past regular season, during which he climbed to No. 2 on the all-time scoring list with 1,914 points, behind only Wayne Gretzky's 2,857 points.
Along the way, Jagr has won five Art Ross trophies as the NHL scoring leader, and the 1999 Hart Memorial Trophy as the league MVP.
"We sat beside each other in the dressing room in Pittsburgh when he started," Paek recalled. "It's no secret why he's still playing. I saw his work ethic when I was playing with him at 18. For him to keep going like this, that's fantastic. It's great to see."
There is one caveat: the NHL has announced it will not send its players to PyeongChang, breaking a string of five consecutive Winter Games in which the world's top professionals participated. The International Ice Hockey Federation is hopeful that there is still room for negotiation, though it remains to be seen if the NHL will budge.
Jagr helped the Czech Republic to the gold medal at Nagano 1998, the first Winter Games where the NHL stars were allowed to play. He added a bronze at the 2006 Games in Torino, Italy, and was the Czech Republic's flag bearer at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. In all, Jagr has competed at each of the past five Olympics.
The NHL hasn't decided what to do with individual players who still want to compete for their countries in PyeongChang, but if a player of Jagr's stature wants to participate in the Olympics again, it's difficult to imagine anyone saying no to him. (Yonhap)