Great player, better person
As good a player as Jarome Iginla is on the ice, most people believe he is an even better person away from the rink.
"He's such a genuine young man and he's very responsible and respectful," says Don Hay, Iginla's coach during his tenure with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League. "He has respect for his coaches and the other players. Jarome just genuinely loves the game."
And those that he plays it with.
Iginla still makes the trip back to Kamloops to attend team reunions, always signing autographs and posing for pictures with the fans that supported him so early in his career. As he travels around the NHL, he tries to stop and visit briefly with former Blazer teammates now playing in other NHL cities.
While with Kamloops, Iginla won two Memorial Cups and emerged as one of the top players in junior hockey. But, often, he was not even the best player on his team. During Iginla's stay in Kamloops, Toronto's Darcy Tucker, Phoenix's Shane Doan and Minnesota's Hnat Domenichelli also wore the Blazers' sweater and lit up scoreboards across the WHL.
"I can't stress how fortunate I was to go at 16 to a team that had so many future NHL stars on it," says Iginla. "It was fun. That's an important time in your life. We all kind of grew up together and we won together. There's definitely a bond there."
Iginla not only attended this year's Kamloops reunion, but he took part in the alumni game, playing on a line with Doan and Philadelphia's Mark Recchi, who played with the Blazers from 1986 to 1988.
"They did some damage, yes they did," said Hay when asked how effective that trio of NHL stars was in a high-paced game of shinny.
For Iginla, it was just another opportunity to include friends and teammates in his passion, which is hockey.
After signing a new contract late this summer, becoming the Flames' highest-paid player in the process, Iginla was most happy to just be able to return to the dressing room and pal around with teammates.
As a show of gratitude for all the help teammates provided in helping him forge a career year of 52 goals and 44 assists, Iginla arrived at this year's camp with a Breitling watch for each member of last season's team.
Young defenseman Robyn Regehr, another Kamloops grad who plays for Calgary, was floored by Iginla's generosity, although he has experienced it first-hand for the past three seasons. During that time he has watched Iginla dote on teammates and lead the club in fund-raising efforts for several Calgary-based children’s charities.
"A classy move by a very classy individual," Regehr said. "To his credit, he didn't forget anyone. A very nice thank-you gesture by him. As everyone knows, he's always gracious in the media when he talks about his teammates, his linemates. He's always the first guy to spread the thanks around."
That, it seems, is just Iginla's way. Despite his status as the game's next superstar, Iginla is as adept at passing the praise around as he is at beating opposing goalies.