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Jaromir Jagr recalled as ‘wild child’ in Pittsburgh

Jaromir Jagr practiced with the Bruins ahead of the the trip to Pittsburgh for Game 1.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Jaromir Jagr practiced with the Bruins ahead of the the trip to Pittsburgh for Game 1.

PITTSBURGH — When Jaromir Jagr arrived from Czechoslovakia in 1990, he was a wide-eyed, 18-year-old NHL rookie who barely spoke English.

He loved fast cars and life in the fast lane.

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At times, though, he was too fast for his own good.

“He was a wild child,” said Penguins radio analyst Phil Bourque, a Chelmsford, Mass., native who played with Jagr on Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup championship teams in 1991 and ’92. “That was his style. He just did his own thing.

“His bad driving habits were very well-known in town. He had a glove box full of speeding tickets, but he never paid them. And he would tick off policemen, because when he would get a speeding ticket, he would open up his glove box and just jam them in there until he had about 20 speeding tickets.

“I don’t know if he ever did pay them all.”

Bourque and his teammates could tell early on that Jagr, the fifth player drafted in 1990, had speed and skills on the ice, too.

“You’d see him at practice and you’d say, ‘Oh, my goodness, this kid is so talented,’ ” Bourque said. “What people forget is his first few months in the National Hockey League were very, very difficult. He would be going down the ice with his head down and he used to get creamed.

“We would cringe on the bench. But it was baptism by fire. He learned real quick.”

Jagr netted a combined 59 goals and 126 points in his first two seasons, plus 14 goals and 37 points in the playoffs to help the franchise win its first two Cups.

“We were loaded with good guys, and that’s what made it a perfect situation for him,” said Bourque, a former winger/defenseman who played for three NHL teams. “He never had to be the guy. He could always be the second guy or the third guy.

“He learned a ton off of Mario [Lemieux] and Paul Coffey, too. And Bryan Trottier was very instrumental in his learning curve. But Jags was very instrumental in us winning the two Cups.”

Jagr won five NHL scoring titles in 11 seasons with the Penguins, captured the Hart Trophy as MVP in 1999, and played in seven All-Star Games before being traded at age 29 to the Capitals in the summer of 2001.

Jagr’s picture is among those in an unofficial “ring of honor” in the Penguins dressing room at Consol Energy Center. Others include Hall of Famers Coffey and Lemieux (now the franchise’s co-owner) and former Boston College star and Bruins player Kevin Stevens.

Now 41, Jagr will return to his roots Saturday when the Bruins play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals in Pittsburgh.

“I have never given it a thought that one of the star players in Pittsburgh history is up on our ring of honor and still playing,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who is just 17 months older than Jagr.

Once one of the city’s most popular athletes, Jagr was booed loudly last year when he and the hated Flyers eliminated the Penguins in six games in the opening round of the playoffs. Jagr also lost to the Penguins in five games in the 2008 playoffs as a member of the Rangers.

After joining the Bruins in a trade with Dallas in early April, Jagr scored just two goals in 11 regular-season games, and he has no goals in 12 playoff games, managing just four assists.

“He’s still a force down low with the puck offensively,” Bylsma said. “He’s a tough guy to take the puck off of.

“I don’t look at birth certificates. He might be [41] years old, but he still has power-play [ability] coming off the flank, coming off the half wall, and his puck protection down low in the offensive zone is a big factor for that line.

“Maybe not the same hair as he did when he was in Pittsburgh, but he’s still got game.”

Jagr had a chance to re-sign with the Penguins in the summer of 2011. But he didn’t respond to their one-year, $2 million offer, despite having a lengthy conversation with Lemieux and after previously saying that he would work for the league minimum to play for the team Lemieux owns. Jagr instead accepted the Flyers’ offer of $3.3 million.

“I’m not really surprised he’s still playing, because I know his work ethic,” Bourque said. “He was like that here, too. He was always the first one on the ice and the last one off.

“He just never seemed to get tired. He loved being in the weight room with other guys. It was fun to him. It wasn’t work to him.”

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