Why Jaromir Jagr Won’t Quit Playing Hockey

In Bow’s two years in Kladno he has seen Jagr’s impact.

“Without him, I don’t know if there is a team here,” Bow said. “He’s pouring in hours of work to make sure everything is up and running. We don’t have the biggest budget, but he’s making sure we have sponsors and we have a team. It’s his baby, and it’s amazing to see how much people love him.”

With its quaint, medieval city center, modern residential flats and outer farmland, Kladno was once a thriving industrial (and hockey) center of Europe. Known for its mines and the great Poldi steel works, which Karl Wittgenstein (father of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein), opened in 1889, it sits less than 20 miles northwest of old Prague.

Under the postwar communist regime, the steel factory sponsored the club and Poldi Kladno enjoyed a small dynasty, winning five national championships between 1975 and 1980, behind Milan Novy, perhaps the second-best player in Czech hockey history.

“This city has got such a big history,” Jagr said.

Kladno’s population during that period was about 50,000 and roughly 20,000 worked at Poldi. But when the communist government fell in 1989, the factory, unprepared for the free market, collapsed. People sought work elsewhere, especially in Prague and at the airport that sits between the two cities. The factory buildings still stand, but only a fraction are in use, by a few small companies.

Jan Ulrych, 46, a data analyst who lives in Kladno, takes his son to the occasional game. He recounted the handful of occasions that he and family members have spotted Jagr out and about in the city of 70,000. He gestured at the quiet, orderly streets, mostly empty on weekends.

“I always thought it was an ugly, industrial town with nothing going on,” he added. “But I found out that it’s not that bad. Jagr being back, maybe it helps a bit, too.”

Jagr grew up about a 10-minute drive north of the arena, not far from the old steel plant, in a section of Kladno called Hnidousy. Jagr drew a map to help a reporter locate his old house, marking a tree to one side and a small schoolhouse across the road.

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