The sky's the limit for Iginla
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"It's the toughest loss by a thousand times," Iginla said after the 2-1 Game 7 loss. "I mean, that's one shot. The guys worked so hard and I mean, it's a very good season, (I'm) proud of everybody, but I mean that hurts more than anything else I have been a part of by far.
"Guys talk about how hard it is, how hard the whole road to the Stanley Cup is, and it is hard," he said. "It is very physically demanding and grueling and it's a lot of fun to play in, but it takes its toll. All year we work to try to be our best every game but in the playoffs, guys find more. It's been an unbelievable ride. A lot of emotions, you know, you feel so good after you get one win and try to focus and then the next, if you lose it is tough to keep -- you know, just try and stay positive. But it's been worth it. Absolutely seven years out of the playoffs, I won't change it. I hope from here on in we're in the playoffs for a long time."
But the 2004 Finals are now one of those sign posts for the future for Iginla and the Flames, another chapter in a career that is just gaining steam.
"I think each year in the League has gone by quick," Iginla said. "This had been my eighth year. And (I'm) just trying to learn more, feel more comfortable on and off the ice. I can't believe how quick it's gone, though. It's been an awesome experience. When I was younger, people tell you that it's going to go quick (but) you don't believe (it). I know it's going to go quick, but it's gone way quicker than I expected. But it's been everything that I have expected.
"As far as on the ice, I think I try to be a power forward and I have always, ever since pretty much since junior, been trying to work with that bounce," he said. "I always looked up to guy like Shanahan, how he balanced the finesse and the physical sides, and try to find balance. I'm still working on that. ... I still have more to try and improve and be like (Keith) Tkachuk and Shanahan.
"Off the ice, I think there's so much to feeling more comfortable and preparing for games. ... It's hard to put into words, but watching guys like Martin Gelinas and how he is such a professional and how you work out on and off the ice trying to keep yourself in shape, when to try and get your rest, how you treat your body is very important. This takes a lot of energy out on the ice."
And now as a captain and emerging hockey spokesman, Iginla has to incorporate those responsibilities into his whole approach, something other players have struggled with throughout the years.
"I remember the first time when the camera would go on and the lights and how nervous (I was) ... kind of like a deer caught in headlights," Iginla laughed. "I still get nervous and still say too many 'ums', but it's fun. It's all part of it and it's what I have dreamt about doing, watching my heroes when I was young doing interviews and things like that. It's been a great experience."
And it has become an experience he wishes to share with minority kids through his work with NHL Diversity.
"I was the only black player on my team," he recalled. "I grew up in Saint Albert, just outside of Edmonton. Loved the Oilers, so I loved Wayne Gretzky. Everybody loved him. Mark Messier, loved his leadership, his intensity. Grant Fuhr, and being a minority player, I also followed other black players in Claude Vilgrain in New Jersey, Tony McKegney. It was something that because being the only black player on my team growing up, I dreamt just like everybody else to be in the NHL. Some other kids, not trying to be mean, said, well, there are not that many black players in the NHL. What are the chances?
"I know what it meant to me. It was nice to be able to say, look at Grant Fuhr winning his Stanley Cups and Claude Vilgrain scoring 30 goals and Tony McKegney 40, there weren't that many, but it was a lot easier to be able to say that and then other kids going 'Oh, yeah, I guess there are.' Also for seeing that it was possible.
"I take pride in it and I do think about it," he said of being a role model. "I know what it meant to me. It's hard to put in words, but it made me feel it was possible and I really tried. I remember watching Dale Craigwell and Fred Braithwaite when they were playing with Eric Lindros and Oshawa winning the Memorial Cup and seeing other young black players coming up and getting excited about that.
"So yeah, knowing what it meant to me and thinking that maybe there is other young black kids who want to play, and in the same situation that I was and wanting to follow that dream, but there's more. There's so many more black players for young minorities to look up to in all different positions; great goalies, defensemen, tough guys, scorers, offensive players, but I would definitely -- it's a neat feeling to think maybe there are some kids in that same situation."
And those efforts don't extend to just the role with NHL Diversity. Iginla is ready to get the message out that hockey is the game.
"I'd be comfortable in trying to help grow the game," he said. "I mean, it's a great game. I think you look at kids who get involved and I have a hockey school and young ones who are five or six, once they get involved, they just love the game, the speed, the equipment, being able to go and crash around. Once they taste it, I think kids fall in love with the game.
"It's a great game, I'd love to do that, but I think the game has very young exciting players coming up that are going to be great to watch. You look at teams like Tampa Bay, Ottawa, the game is shifting I think to the style of game, so I think there's a lot of positive about it, but I would embrace, as I am sure a lot of players would, anything to try to promote it."