Jagr, wearing number 68 to commemorate the Prague Spring, waits to play in Omsk.
The stomp-stomp-clap of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” thundered as Jaromir Jagr’s image on the video screen above the rink flicked off and the player himself left the bench. Hunched menacingly and clutching his stick, he skated onto the ice with his teammates through a glowing red-white-and-black mock-up of a hawk’s open beak, occasioning the first of many stadium-wide chants—“JAGR! JAGR! JAGR!”
Held in a new, 10,000-seat arena, the sold-out game, which was to be nationally televised, bore all the trappings (and then some) of an NHL contest, including a squad of solarium-bronzed cheerleaders and a pulley-operated hawk that swooped from its perch above center ice, claws splayed, to overfly the rink.
The national anthem that roused the crowd to its feet, however, began with Rossiya—svyashchennaya nasha derzhava (“Russia—our holy country”); and, save for a few Toyota and Nikon logos, all the names limned onto the ice belonged to Russian companies: Gazprom, Sogaz, Mostovik, Yasnaya Polyana. The Czech-born Jagr, 36, a right wing who has topped rosters for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals, and the New York Rangers since 1990, is now playing for Avangard Omsk, of the new Continental Hockey League, in Omsk, Siberia. This was his team’s first home game of the 2008–2009 season, against Metallurg, from the Ural Mountain town of Magnitogorsk.