Iginla's name is as big as his game

Monday, 01.26.2009 / 11:00 AM
Larry Wigge  - NHL.com Columnist
MONTREAL -- What's in a name? At the NHL All-Star Game, you see names for all seasons, all nationalities, all world.

Ovechkin. Malkin. Hejduk. Kane. Nash. Modano. Niedermayer. Giguere. Luongo. Kovalchuk. Vanek. Staal. Lecavalier. Chara. Bouwmeester. No one-name famous people in hockey like Elvis, Tiger, Ichiro, Pele, Oprah, Beyonce, Cher or Madonna.

But one thing that should be very clear to hockey fans is that more can sometimes be better. After all, isn't there more than enough good in everything that surrounds Jarome Arthur Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla.

Yeah, that's a mouthful.

"It took a long time to learn how to write it," said Iginla, flashing his patented big smile. "Just pronouncing my name was hard enough. My dad still works on it with me. I got it down except for the Adekunle part; I still have trouble pronouncing that one."

Being a little different growing up wasn't all that bad, according to Jarome.

"It was fun growing up," he said. "People couldn't believe it, so I had to pull out my birth certificate."

Now that's unique, carrying around your birth certificate as a kid.

Hey Jarome. Elvis? Like in "The King"?

"No," he laughed. "That's my dad's name. He thought Elvis was a common name, like Mike or Mark, and he just liked the name and gave it to himself. At the time, he didn't realize it was unique. His original name was Adekunle, and people had a hard time pronouncing it. That's why he changed it."

On the ice, Jarome Iginla is a presence along the boards with his power forward body, and he's never shy about dropping his gloves to stand up for a teammate. In and around the net, he waves his stick around like a magician -- sending pinpoint passes to teammates and picking apart goaltenders with his even more on-the-mark shooting that has enabled him to reach the 50-goal mark twice (including 2007-08) and net 35 or more goals in each of his last six seasons.

With Iginla, you get character, a leader and a great teammate. A few moments with Jarome and you can understand why the Calgary Flames had no problem naming him their captain.

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Edmonton native, who was the No. 11 pick by the Dallas Stars in the 1995 Entry Draft, was only traded back in December 1995 because the Stars had an opportunity to acquire Joe Nieuwendyk, who himself scored 50 goals twice. Nieuwendyk had helped the Flames win one Stanley Cup, and Dallas thought it was a cinch that he'd take them to at least one more -- which he did in 1999.

But there's obviously no denying the staying power of Iginla. He's a player who led the league in goals and scoring in 2001-02 and played in his fifth All-Star Game Sunday at the Bell Centre.

What you see is what you get from Jarome. But what you don't see is the pride with which this champion of the NHL diversity program brings to his game.

Like most hockey players, Iginla comes from a hard-working background. Dad's a lawyer and mom and grandma are music teachers -- up-front people, with positive attitudes who love to be around other folks. You see all of that in Iginla's work ethic and in the way he deals with everyone he comes in contact with.

So, Jarome, enough with the suspense. What gives with all the names? A few moments later, Iginla had convinced me of the pride he has with his Nigerian and African ancestry by giving me the play-by-play that led to his names:

Jarome -- "My mom changed the name Jerome from "e" to "a" because she wanted it to be a little unique."

Arthur Leigh --"That's my dad's middle name."

Adekunle (pronounced Add-ah-kun-lee-eh) -- "That's my dad's name in Nigerian."

Tig (pronounced Tidge) -- "That's my African grandfather's name. It's short for Tigan."

Junior -- "That the simple one. It's short for Junior."

Elvis -- See above.

"To me, there's a lot of pride in where you come from," Iginla added. "I know I'm proud of my parents and grandparents. They brought me up to treat everyone the way you'd like people to treat you. What a great lesson, eh?"

Need more?

"I wanted to give our kids the same unique pride that I had by giving them family names, but my wife had some objections," Iginla said. "We named our daughter Jay. Simple. Smart. Just like she is. That was good.

"When our second child was a boy, my wife said, 'No, absolutely no,' to copying all of my names. So we named him Tig. She said, 'That was hard enough.' So ...

"When we were blessed with a third child, he got the treatment. A simple Joe, followed by Arthur Leigh Elvis Adekunle Junior Iginla."

Why Joe?

"Some of the writers in Calgary were caught off-guard a short time ago when some of my boyhood buddies were around the rink and they kept calling me Joe," Iginla roared. "That's a nickname my pals gave me when I was 8- or 9-years-old, and they
didn't want to bother with the rest of the story."

Any fights as a youngster because of this story, Jarome? "No, I was a lover, not a fighter," he joked. "Seriously, I went a long way to make friends."

This time he laughed loudly and continued, "In grade school I often sold my lunch to buy video games. My mom was a single parent (Iginla's parents divorced when he was 2). She didn't cook too much. She worked a lot. But she always made sure I had a big lunch. The lunches were good, but I could do without about half of it, so I was a businessman. I changed parts of my lunch or I asked my mom to get me lunch items that I knew would be good trade material. It was great. I would trade what I didn't want for video games."

Sounds like the start of an after-hockey career as a general manager, doesn't it?

"Well, talk about that when I can't get up and down the ice, OK?" he pleaded.

If Iginla had had his way when he was younger, he might not be an NHL All-Star or even as a hockey player.

"I grew up wanting to be a two-sport star like Bo Jackson," Iginla said. "But the opportunities were better in hockey being from Canada. Maybe that was part of the diversity issue as well, because I started out in hockey as a goalie just like Grant Fuhr, plus coming from Edmonton I was a big Oilers fan. But I found out how difficult it is to stop the puck ... and how much I'd rather be up front scoring goals and banging players into the boards."

We're so lucky that Jarome Arthur Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla followed the pathway his family made very unique for him, aren't we?

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