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Iginla's flame burns bright in Calgary

by Mike Board / Calgary Flames
When the Calgary Flames first acquired him, fans and media had to learn how to pronounce his name. Now Jarome Iginla is a household name.

On Thursday he skated in Game 804 as a Flame, becoming the all-time franchise leader in games played. It is one of a a number of team records that Iginla's named will be etched beside before he finishes his career.

"He's at 800 and counting," noted Flames assistant coach Rich Preston. "He could play 800 more, believe me."

The team hopes those 800 more games come in a Flames uniform having signed Iginla, the team captain, to a five-year contract which begins next season.

Preston was a coach in the Western Hockey League while Iginla was a member of the Kamloops Blazers. He first coached Iginla in Calgary in 1997, as a young Iginla was just getting his skates wet in the National Hockey League.

"The amazing thing was that he would play half a game. He would play 30 minutes a game. You could tell back then he was a real horse."
Game 804  By the Numbers
  • Records first shot on goal, 26 seconds in
  • records assist on first goal at 3:08
  • two shots in second period

Following a pre-game video segment, Iginla stepped on the ice and passed Al MacInnis' mark of 803 games. Fittingly, he worked his way down the right side and fired a wrist shot on net off the opening face-off, recording the first shot of the historical night.

Iginla was actually drafted 11th overall in the 1995 draft by the Dallas Stars before getting traded to Calgary in December of that year with Corey Millen for Joe Nieuwendyk.  At the time Nieuwendyk was the Flames captain but was a holdout after contract negotiations stalemated.

Reaction in Calgary was mixed. Nieuwendyk had been a popular captain and Iginla, while starring in the WHL, was still an unproven talent. At the time of the trade Don Hay, current coach of the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, was an assistant coach in Calgary. He had coached Iginla in Kamloops. While Hay wouldn't predict Iginla as the next team captain or a 50-goal scorer, he did note that Iginla could step into the NHL and contribute.


Jarome Iginla Photo Gallery

That's exactly what Iginla did. In the spring of 1996. After a great performance at the World Junior Championships, Iginla joined the Flames for two playoff games against the Chicago Blackhawks, an experience he described as surreal.

He flew to Calgary the morning of Game 3 against the Hawks. He was not expecting to play. The night before he had been at a gathering with his Blazer teammates, who had just been eliminated from the WHL playoffs. But, when he arrived, he was informed he would be playing.

"It was probably a good thing because if I had known I was playing, I wouldn't have slept at all," said Iginla. "I had to sign my contract. We had agreed to it but I hadn't signed it. Then I had to get to the dressing room. I was kinda late. Guys were half dressed. I was shaking hands with players and Ron Stern finally said; 'Okay, enough. Get ready to play'," recalled Iginla.

"A couple of night before I am a fan. I am cheering for Calgary and watching them play against Ed Belfour and Chris Chelios. Next thing I am on a line with Theo Fleury and playing against Belfour and Chelios. It was so surreal. It is something I will never forget."

Since that time Iginla has developed into one of the premiere players in the NHL. He has played for Canada on the international stage; won the Art Ross Trophy, won the Maurice 'Rocket' Richard trophy and been to a Stanley Cup Final.

The 30-year-old has amassed 337 goals and 360 assists for 697 points while wearing the Flaming C.

He has been with the Flames through lean, losing times.

"There's a lot of things that happen and a lot of player movement," said Iginla, who can count two active players from his rookie season still in the NHL (Dwayne Roloson and Cory Stillman). "And a lot of rebuilding. I'm very thankful for the confidence that the management and the ownership have had to keep me here."

Throughout his time in Calgary Iginla has remained humble. He is available to media all the time; he works with charities and can always crack a smile.

"I've been extremely blessed to play in the NHL and to play in Calgary. And now to be (the Flames all-time games leader) is a huge honour. It's a great organization that has had some great players play for it. First of all, to be in the league for 10 or 11 years and to be with Calgary...I have to pinch myself at times. "

Iginla scored in the playoffs against Chicago but his first official goal came in a game against Vancouver. He remembers it like is was yesterday. A pass from Millen, shoot into a wide open net with Kirk McLean in the Canucks goal. "But we didn't win that game," said Iginla.

That defines the Flames new games-played leader. His will to win. Iginla has been through the tough times in Calgary. He was n the verge of sipping from the Stanley Cup in 2004. It is what fuels his passion.

"I wanted to be here when we turned the corner and got into the playoffs. Now I really want to be here when we win," said Iginla.

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