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Jarome Iginla
After his performance in the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals Jarome Iginla proved to the hockey world that he is worthy one of being labeled the best player in the game.
The sky's the limit for Iginla

By Phil Coffey | Impact! Magazine

Saying Jarome Iginla's star was born during the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs would be a gross miscarriage of justice.

Iginla, after all, has widely been viewed among hockey's elite for several seasons now. But it isn't out of line to say that the Calgary Flames' dynamic power forward took advantage of the opportunity offered by the 2004 postseason to let the rest of the sporting world know that a star has indeed arrived.

"That's very flattering. That's a nice compliment, but that's hard to believe that that would be said," Iginla said when the topic of being the NHL's best player is raised. "No, it's something that this playoff run has been exciting for our team and we all get more coverage.

"I have always wanted to be an elite player in the League and a star in the League and I want to get better," he continued. "I look at some of the best players in the League, (Joe) Sakic and (Peter) Forsberg, you know. Those guys I really look up to, their intensity and their winning. I have always loved Brendan Shanahan's game and playing with Sakic at the Olympics and seeing what kind of player and how dedicated he is and what kind of person he is, it was a great experience. Looking to them how they do it year in and year out.

If we tried to shut down Sakic, you know, you can't. He finds a way to be consistent. So I would like to get better and I feel I am going to work at it and try to get better, but that's a huge compliment."

Make no mistake about it, Iginla has star power. On the ice, his seamless mix of size (6-foot-1, 208 pounds), skill (128 goals during the last three seasons), and snarl (84 penalty minutes during the 2003-04 regular season) conjure up images of a healthy Cam Neely redefining the role of the power forward while with the Boston Bruins.

And perhaps more importantly, Iginla's skills away from the rink are what cast him in the role of the superstar.

As the first black captain in NHL history, Iginla embraces the work of NHL Diversity and his success is a beacon to kids that they too can play hockey, no matter their background or race.

Jarome Iginla
On the ice, Iginla's seamless mix of size, skill and snarl conjure up images of a healthy Cam Neely, who redefined the role of the power forward while with the Boston Bruins.

It's also impossible to ignore the fact that Iginla is just a good guy, often eliciting comparisons to retired NHL stars Adam Graves and Pat Lafontaine who are better people than they were players, which says a whole lot.

Just ask any of the media who covered Iginla this season. His smile was infectious, his presence constant during good times and bad for the Flames. He was their captain -- hence their spokesman -- and never ducked the important responsibility. He also made the Flames his own in his first season as captain, accepting the mantle of responsibility with grace and dignity.

Heck, he's so popular that even the opposition can't say a bad thing about him.

"Jarome is not only a great player, but he's a great person," 2004 Finals rival Martin St. Louis said. "He's a great pro athlete. He takes time away from the game and he's just a good all-around person. He's down to earth. As much success as he has, he goes out of his way to say hi to people.

"That's one thing beyond hockey that I think as a person you want to copy," said St. Louis, who first met Iginla while a member of the Flames organization. "But obviously as a player, his statistics don't lie. From his junior career and all the way up to the NHL, he has been an impact on every team he's played on. He's a player that does everything, I feel. He's a big reason why they are where they are at."

Even Detroit Red Wings defenseman Derian Hatcher can't find a discouraging word for Iginla and the two waged quite the battle during the second round of the 2004 playoffs, including a celebrated dust-up in one game.

"It's tough for him," Hatcher told reporters of the extra attention he and the Wings paid to Iginla. "Obviously, with the success he had in his last series, you have to expect to be watched a little closer."

"He's one of those guys you love to watch play the game because he's got that old-time hockey flair to him," Detroit forward Darren McCarty told reporters. "He can do everything."

And the scary part is Darryl Sutter, the Flames' GM and coach, figures better days are coming.

Jarome Iginla
Iginla has twice won the Rocket Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals in the NHL during the regular season.

"Jarome's what, 26? I don't think you've seen all what Jarome can be," Sutter said. "There's a lot of pressure on him to be a really good player. He's a high-end guy. He cares and he wants to be a great player."

Iginla has twice won the Rocket Richard Trophy for scoring the most goals during the regular season. He took the trophy outright in 2001-02 during a breakout season in which he scored 52 goals and 44 assists and was the runner-up for the Hart Trophy as the regular-season most valuable player. In 2003-04, he scored 41 goals and shared the Richard Trophy with Columbus' Rick Nash and Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk. He also was a finalist for the Hart Trophy that went to Tampa Bay's St. Louis.

But just as you might expect from the self-effacing Iginla, the individual awards aren't the destination for him. Rather they are sign posts on the way to team success. So, like his teammates, Iginla was crestfallen after coming up a game short against the Lightning in the 2004 Finals.

Jarome Iginla
"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. I always looked up to guy like [Brendan] 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." -- Jarome Iginla

"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."

Jarome Iginla
Iginla led all NHLers in goals during the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs, tallying 13 red-lighters in 26 games for the Flames.

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."

Jarome Iginla
"From his junior career and all the way up to the NHL, he has been an impact on every team he's played on. He's a player that does everything, I feel. He's a big reason why they are where they are at." -- Tampa's Martin St. Louis on Jarome Iginla

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."


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