Pens defenseman sees other side of Jagr

Defenseman Zbynek Michalek, like Jaromir Jagr a Czech Republic native ? the only one on the Penguins' roster ? understands why Jagr will receive such a venomous reaction. But it still hurts.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek, like Jaromir Jagr a Czech Republic native ? the only one on the Penguins' roster ? understands why Jagr will receive such a venomous reaction. But it still hurts.
| Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011

While Jaromir Jagr is being bombarded by boos Thursday night at Consol Energy Center, one Penguins player will be cringing.

Defenseman Zbynek Michalek, like Jagr a Czech Republic native — the only one on the Penguins' roster — understands why Jagr will receive such a venomous reaction. But it still hurts.

Where Michalek comes from, Jagr is royalty.

"I know people here are proud of the Penguins and proud of their sports teams," Michalek said. "They feel like he betrayed them. But I feel sorry for the guy."

Jagr's reputation is considerably different in the Czech Republic than here. While his moodiness was a subject in Western Pennsylvania long before he was traded to Washington in 2001, Jagr's approval rating in his homeland remains spotless.

"He's a legend back home," said Michalek, who played with Jagr in the World Championships this spring. "He's done a lot of great things for sports back home. I feel bad for him. But I do understand both sides."

Michalek grew up idolizing Jagr, whom the Penguins drafted fifth overall in 1990, and said the team developed a fan base in the Czech Republic in the 1990s as a result.

"He was the first guy from my country to make it big in the NHL," Michalek said. "Everyone loved him because of it, and everyone loved the Penguins because of it."

Penguins fans once loved him, too.

"Everyone will always love him back home," Michalek said. "Even to this day, there are articles about him in the (Czech Republic) newspapers every day."

Jagr's return to the city where he was named league MVP and won five scoring titles and two Stanley Cup championships figures to make for quite a story, one Michalek has mixed feelings about.

"It is special to get to play against him, and it was special to play with him earlier this year," he said. "He has always been an ambassador to the game. But I do understand where people are coming from."

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