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Penguins

Penguins skate for children at Jagr's Camp

| Monday, Sept. 8, 2003

Jaromir Jagr has sponsored a star-studded training camp every summer in the Czech Republic since the late 1990s. And while it looks less like a mini-Penguins camp now than it did a couple of years ago, the Penguins were still well represented there this summer by Martin Straka, Milan Kraft, Josef Melichar and Michal Rozsival.

The Jagr Team camp brings players together for two separate 10-day stints -- one on dry land in July and one on-ice session in August -- for practices complete with coaches, trainers, medical staff and all the same elements that their NHL teams have.

The roster of 30-plus players is also impressive -- in addition to four current Penguins players including Martin Straka, others include Jagr, Martin Rucinsky, Petr Nedved, Martin Havlat and Radek Dvorak.

"It's pretty good actually," Straka said. "You work very hard."

Josef Melichar, who missed most of last season with a separated shoulder, agrees.

"You get to know everyone else, and it's nice to go one-on-one with Jagr and all those guys," said the defenseman, who's been at the Jagr Team camps for four summers now. "It's perfect. If you're just by yourself, you never know if you've prepared enough or not. This way, you know. You're practicing with a coach, and you know what to do and how you feel going into your team camp."

During dry-land training, players spend 6-8 hours a day working out, riding bikes in the morning and afternoon and working out in the gym in between during the week. On weekends, they play in either tennis or soccer tournaments.

They return home at the end of the 10 days -- Straka and Kraft continue to work out together in Plzen -- but the tennis and soccer tournaments continue throughout the summer. Then, in mid-August, they meet again for the on-ice part of camp. They practice twice a day and also play a few non-contact exhibition games against second division Czech teams.

"It does help because when you skate or work out by yourself, you don't know what the other guys are doing," Kraft said. "When you see them on the ice, you know you can do stuff like they do."

"I think it's especially good for the guys like Krafty to get used to the tempo and practice with the best players," Straka said. "Jagr's there and (Petr) Nedved's there, so you get a chance to practice with the best players."

Straka said the exhibition games sell out the arenas, and they also get big crowds at practices. And the best part, he said, is that they use the exhibition games to raise money for sick children across the country.

"The huge thing is that every game brings in money for the kids," he said. "That's why we do it. Otherwise, we wouldn't do it probably because you want to do something for the city and for the country and give something back."

Notes: The Penguins' non-veteran camp continued Sunday with open ice. The players ran drills for most of the three-hour session, unlike Saturday, which was a scrimmage. Practices start today with the coaching staff and run from 8:30-11:15 a.m. ... The general public sale for individual game tickets begins at 10 a.m. today through Ticketmaster.

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