Voracek earning Jagr-level attention
PITTSBURGH -- Like so many hockey-playing kids in his neighborhood in Kladno, Czech Republic, Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek had a poster of Jaromir Jagr tacked on his bedroom wall. He even had a mullet when he was 5 or 6 years old, though Voracek swears it only was because his mom made him sit in the barbershop chair and get one.
"It was popular then," he said with a smile. "I'm sure other kids had them because of Jagr, though."
Voracek, who said his hair is long enough for him to have a mullet today, has found a different and more fulfilling way to take after his childhood idol.
While all the kids in his neighborhood dreamt of meeting and perhaps one day getting to skate with Jagr, who also is from Kladno, Voracek now carpools with the future Hall of Famer to practice because they live in the same neighborhood and play on the same team in the National Hockey League.
And after playing the role of Game 1 hero Wednesday, Voracek can say he, like Jagr, has scored a huge goal in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. Jagr has four playoff overtime winners in his career; Voracek now has one after hammering home a loose puck from the right side of the net to complete Philadelphia's comeback from a 3-0 deficit into a 4-3 win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against Pittsburgh.
Voracek's phone was buzzing like a bee after the game.
"I had a lot of messages from Halifax [where he played junior hockey], from Columbus [his former NHL team], from Philly, from back home," Voracek said. "It's pretty exciting. Everybody is watching this series. It's the most-watched series in the NHL right now. It's exciting."
A year ago there was nothing really all that exciting about Voracek's hockey life. He was en route back to Kladno after failing to make the playoffs with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second time in his three seasons. At 21 years old, Voracek, who was selected with the No. 7 pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, still was searching for the special something that defines NHL players and their careers.
He wasn't looking for a Jagr-like moment; just a slice of excitement to call his own.
He was traded to Philadelphia on June 23 as part of the Jeff Carter deal, and his career path had changed. He was coming to an organization that was changing its identity while still looking to remain a contender.
Voracek was going to be one of the young players given a chance to grab a major role and run with it, and he did, scoring a career-best 18 goals.
"It was a great thing that happened to me," said Voracek, who had 49 points in 78 games during the regular season. Just over a week after the trade, Voracek learned that Jagr was going to be his teammate. It was a dream come true then, just as it still is now, but Voracek has gained so much more than a lasting memory from his time with Jagr, who he called a "priceless" member of the team.
"When I made it to Columbus my first year, it was my dream to play against him one day," Voracek said. "Then he left for Russia, so it was like, OK, that might be it. We met at the World Championship and all of a sudden in 2012 I'm playing with him on the same team. It's pretty cool. He's such an experienced guy. He knows what it takes to win. He won everything, and he's a great leader."
Voracek isn't Jagr, but he does have the same body type. He's big, especially in his lower half, and his speed down the right wing is impressive to watch.
"The first time when I saw him in training camp I said, 'This guy can skate,'" Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "If he can stay healthy and he can skate like that throughout the year, he is going to score some goals, create some offense for us. He's done that. Hopefully he can keep doing that throughout the playoffs because he's one of the key guys for us."
So far, so good.
Even before scoring his first playoff overtime goal, Voracek was one of the Flyers' best forwards in Game 1. He finished the game with three shots on goal and three hits.
"He is at his best when he's moving and skating, so after the first period, again, he got going and our team got going," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "He's a hard player to defend because of his quickness and his speed and his agility."
Sidney Crosby told NHL.com he's been impressed with Voracek every time he's played against him. Nothing that happened Wednesday changed his opinion.
"I think he's a good player," Crosby said. "He's physical up and down the wing. He uses his body well. He's physical throughout the game. He was always around the net [Wednesday]. He keeps it simple."
Now that he has confidence that he can score a Jagr-like goal to go along with his skating ability and speed, there's reason to believe Voracek's overtime goal may only be the starting point for a breakout postseason.
The Flyers love that -- Jagr included -- even if Voracek has since taken down the poster that used to hang in his childhood bedroom.
"He's one of our top offensive guys, naturally talented," Flyers center Matt Read told NHL.com. "If he shows up to work every night, he's going to always be a great player for us.