Frolik still admires hometown hero Jagr

CHICAGO -- Like all youth hockey players growing up in Kladno, Czechoslovakia in the 1990s, Michael Frolik idolized hometown hero Jaromir Jagr.

Jagr’s NHL career began in 1990, just two years after Frolik was born, allowing Frolik’s early hockey-playing days to be perfectly linked with Jagr’s professional rise. By the time Jagr finished registering 149 points in the 1995-96 regular season, Frolik was an 8-year-old boy beginning to develop his own hockey skills.

“When I was young, I always looked up to him,” Frolik said of Jagr.

Frolik would later follow in Jagr’s footsteps, first playing for the Kladno junior team and later being a top-10 pick in the NHL draft. Jagr was drafted No. 5 in 1990, and Frolik was taken No. 10 in 2006. Frolik became a hockey star himself in Kladno and among its population of about 70,000 people. Some people even labeled him “Baby Jagr.”

Frolik laughed Tuesday about the once nickname. Even as the two players -- Frolik with the Chicago Blackhawks and Jagr with the Boston Bruins -- are now about to face each other in the Stanley Cup finals and are considered peers in the NHL, Frolik still finds himself looking up to his boyhood idol.

“When I was little and when I was younger, they called me [‘Baby Jagr,’]” the 25-year-old Frolik said during the Stanley Cup finals media day on Tuesday. “I never really got into it. I know it’s not true. I know how he was. He’s just one of a kind. What he’s done in his career is unbelievable. I don’t think nobody can really do that in the future. He was amazing. When they called me like that, I wasn’t into it [like] ‘I’m Baby Jagr.’ It wasn’t like that for me.”

Frolik's emergence as a teenage hockey star didn't unnoticed by Jagr either. Frolik popped up on Jagr’s radar when Frolik took the ice as 16-year-old for Hockey Club Kladno in 2004.

“I remember the year the first time he played professional in his career,” the 41-year-old Jagr said. “I think he was 16 years old. It was in the Czech Republic, and it was during the lockout in 2004. He was 16 years old. The only other guy who played [when they were] 16 was me, and he was playing on the first line. He’s always been a great player.”

Frolik would get the chance to live out a childhood dream when he teamed up with Jagr to play for the Czech Republic in the World Championships in 2011. The Czech Republic finished with the bronze. Frolik had three goals and two assists in nine games, and Jagr had five goals and four assists in nine games.

“It was an exciting time,” Frolik said. “It was very awesome to be in the same room and play with him on the same team. Try to learn from him and watch him in practice and how he trains. It was a great experience.”

Playing against Jagr for the Stanley Cup is one more experience Frolik expects to be memorable.

“For sure, it’s a big honor to play against him,” Frolik said. “It’s unbelievable he’s still playing at this level and at this age. I’m excited to play against him. Hopefully, it’s going to be fun games.”