Craig Conroy's wife and kids didn't understand why he did it. People around town were asking him the same question.
Why, they all wanted to know, would he give away the honor of being the Calgary Flames captain?
"A lot of people around town where asking why would I do that, and isn't it an honor to be captain?" Conroy, the Flames' veteran forward, told NHL.com. "It is an honor to be captain, but some people don't understand.
"Because it was him, that's why I had no problem doing it."
The "him" Conroy is referring to is Jarome Iginla
, who five years ago was handed the Flames' captaincy by Conroy. Nobody told Conroy he had to give the "C" he wore for the 2002-03 season to Iginla; he just knew it was the right time to do the right thing.
"I knew it was Jarome's team," Conroy said.
Without question, it still is.
Iginla is now in his fifth season as the Flames' captain, and it's hard to find a better leader in the NHL. Not only does Iginla have complete control of the dressing room and the attention of everyone in it, he is a 50-goal scorer who plays the game the right way -- hard, fast and respectful -- which has earned him League-wide respect.
"When a captain is willing to drop the gloves and fend for himself or a teammate, that's pretty impressive," New York Rangers coach Tom Renney said of Iginla, who has scrapped twice this season. "The fact of the matter is he's a 50-goal guy. I mean, how can you not be impressed?"
As a 19-year-old, Iginla entered the NHL with the goal of one day wearing the "C." He played under six captains in his first seven seasons in Calgary, but it was evident right away that eventually Iginla would be the guy to lead the Flames.
"It's interesting because he was raised in Edmonton when Mark (Messier) was at his peak in Edmonton," Calgary coach Mike Keenan said. "As a youngster, he emulated Mark's play -- he still tries to -- in the contribution he makes to the team, the game and to the group as an impact player."
Conroy was aware of Iginla's desire to be captain. He remembered that roughly a month before Iginla was named captain, one of his good friends, Shane Doan, was named captain of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Iginla was happy for Doan, but at the same time disappointed he wasn't a captain yet.
"He was like, 'Oh, Doaner is captain, that's, um, great,' " Conroy said, laughing at the memory. "So, I walked into the steam room and I said, 'Jarome, I want to give you the captaincy.' I joke about it with him now because right away he was like, 'Really, great.' It wasn't like, 'Oh, don't worry, you're a good captain,' He was like, 'I'll take it.'
"Hey, he was a leader on that team and old enough to where he'd been there a long time," Conroy added. "It was time for him. He took us to the Stanley Cup Final that year so it worked out pretty well."
Iginla, flattered by Conroy's gesture, knew he was ready to wear the letter long before it became official.
"(Conroy) makes jokes to me that he was just joking back then and he bugs me that I jumped on it pretty quick, but I was excited," Iginla said. "It was a huge honor. I had been in the system and each year I felt more comfortable in that role."
Outside of the Flames, Iginla received some pretty useful tutelage in how to be a responsible captain from legends like Mario Lemieux, Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman, all of whom he played with for Team Canada in the Olympics in either 2002 or 2006.
Especially in 2002, when Canada won the gold medal, Iginla said he made sure to always be around the leaders in the dressing room. He took notes on how they approached the game, treated the younger players and how hard they worked all the time.
"They were some of the most talented players in the world and when it came to game time they were there to work, but away from the rink I was surprised at how good of shape they were in," Iginla said. "You hear they are so talented and they are, but I thought it was just talent. They work very hard."
Nobody can accuse Iginla of ever taking it easy either.
"I would watch Jarome prepare for a game and get himself focused," said Columbus forward Kristian Huselius, who played two and a half seasons in Calgary. "I would watch how hard he worked on the ice. I knew I had to be consistent like that."
"He's everything I kind of pictured he'd be and definitely more," Flames left wing Mike Cammalleri
, who came to Calgary this summer in a trade from Los Angeles, told NHL.com. "He is a guy that does it all by example. He is vocal when he needs to and you really listen to him because how many guys can score 50 and knock anybody out that they want to? It's pretty impressive."
Iginla said he tries "to do the things you are talking about as a team." He knows the eyes of Calgary's younger players, such as Dustin Boyd and Dion Phaneuf, are on him, "so if you're cutting corners, that would rub off," he added.
It also helps that he has a strong relationship with Keenan, who has a history of being one of the more intense coaches in the League.
Learn more about Iginla on Thursday, Dec. 11 at 8 p.m. ET when he is the subject of "Captains Driven By Bridgestone," a 20-part original series on the NHL Network.
Airing through April 2009, the series will provide exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes access to the NHL's top team leaders in each episode. Hosted by veteran hockey journalist Christine Simpson, the series will offer fans fresh insight into the lives of current and former NHL captains. "Captains Driven By Bridgestone" continues the tradition of NHL Network by providing fans with complete, authentic hockey coverage both on and off the ice.
Iginla said people who have played under Keenan before have told him the coach has mellowed considerably, but Iginla still sees an intense guy and admits that sometimes he acts as a buffer between Keenan and the rest of the team.
Mark Messier did that in New York in 1994, and we know how that worked out.
"We don't always agree," Iginla said, "but we definitely respect and realize how long he's been around and how much he's won."
"(Iginla) and Mike are on the same page," Conroy said. "They're not battling each other."
Iginla hasn't always been the diplomatic captain.
When he first took over, Conroy said he was more about motivating himself and preparing himself for the game. Now, he pulls guys aside to deliver certain messages and makes sure that everybody in the room is comfortable, especially the young guys.
"When I first gave it to him until now, he's completely different," Conroy said. "He's not just watching out for himself now. He wants everyone to feel like they're a part of it, where maybe at the beginning he did all his leading on the ice."
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer