Jagr's pinky

22-05-2005

No other Czech hockey player has gotten as much attention as Jaromir Jagr and that was once again true - for good reason - at this year's Ice Hockey World Championship in Vienna. Jagr - at 33 - is still a major force in Czech hockey, a shark on the ice you can not take your eyes off for a second. Criticised as a poor team captain a few years ago, Jagr has come of age as a player and this year contributed greatly to the Czech team's successful run. He did so not only through fast skating and precision passing, but simply by staying on. A mangled pinky early in the tournament had left doubt in fans' minds he'd see the tournament through.

Jaromir Jagr, photo: CTKJaromir Jagr, photo: CTK That broken pinky, consequently, received a lot of fan sympathy and lavish attention. Many taped their little fingers out of solidarity. A special glove was designed to help Jagr's puck handling on the ice. And, in the end, some say, the pinky brought the Czech team luck.

Sports teams get notoriously superstitious come tournament time - and I know at least a couple sports fanatics who swore Jagr's pinky would see the team through.

This would be the Czechs' year!

Superstitious or not, "in Jagr's pinky we trust" is certainly more original an idea than when whole teams stop shaving in order to 'preserve' winning streaks. Or, when players gather around a stuffed toy in the locker room chanting secret mantras. Or when they agonise over the national jersey colour on game day. (Though no one admits it for some reason the white national jersey is generally considered "luckier" than the red - perhaps going back to key games at the Nagano Olympics which the Czechs won). I am sure that at least some fans cringed with dread during overtime in the semi-finals in which the Czechs wore red, thinking Sweden would score. If a goal had found the back of the net it would have been because of those red jerseys - not because of Sweden!

Czech fans, photo: CTKCzech fans, photo: CTK The question is: what will become of Jagr's pinky next? Given the man with the best paid hands in hockey deserves to heal, the Czechs will have to do without his mangled finger next year - and they may find it tough going. In fact, they may have to do without any part of Jagr at all - which might be considerably more damaging! At the moment it is far from certain he'll be able to take part in the next championship if teams in the NHL resume play. Maybe he can send along a fingerprint or a clipped nail like some modern day saint's relic. But we'll see.

Speaking of pinkies, one last note: although I love hockey and consider myself a die-hard fan, I sometimes wonder aghast over how some - who didn't "lift a finger" in the team's success - appropriate victory as every excuse to get blindingly drunk and begin smashing things around the city. Though this year incidents were few I did witness a couple knuckleheads on the Prague metro line already drunk out of their skulls at four in the afternoon.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK This, a number of hours before the Czechs actually won.

With mock paper helmets on their heads they looked a right pair of bozos - and instead of looking forward to a glorious final game - they were aggressive, real pictures of discontent.

One of them bashed on the subway door when it didn't open right away, and I daresay hurt his... hand.

Tough luck.

What he might have smashed later - had the Czechs lost - I'd rather not contemplate.

22-05-2005