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Iginla sparks the Flames

by John McGourty
Jarome Iginla has led his team in scoring for eight consecutive seasons, but that's not the only way the Calgary Flames captain proves his genuine worth to his team. Iginla is the Flames' leader in every way -- he scores, he checks, he fights, he does it all. And his teammates appreciate it.

"Everybody knows his skill level and what he brings offensively," said Martin Gelinas, his linemate in Calgary's 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Final and now the Nashville Predators' director of player development. "But when his team is down, he lifts them. He fights for his teammates, and that's an attribute that not too many captains have.

"In the room, he is respected because he is such a great person. As a player, you want to do it all for him. He's that type of guy, the whole package."

Iginla was the first-round pick (No. 11) of the Dallas Stars in the 1995 Entry Draft. While he was still with the Kamloops Blazers, Iginla was traded to the Flames, with Corey Millen, in December 1995 for Joe Nieuwendyk.

Since then, Iginla has become the face of the Flames -- their most recognizable player and a genuine star.

In 12 seasons with the Flames, Iginla has scored 409 goals and added 442 assists for 851 points in 942 games. He ranks seventh among active players in goals, 12th in points, 23rd in assists and 51st in plus-minus with a plus-65 rating. His .434 goals-per-game rank eight and his .903 points-per-game are 13th among active players.

"He's just very good at the game," said former teammate Mike Cammalleri, now with Montreal. "He's a strong guy, he's a motivated guy, he's a very competitive guy and he's someone that constantly works on his game. I think he has a lot of different facets to his game. He can pass, he can shoot, he's a very dynamic offensive player. He can hit, he can fight and he plays well in his own end. It's pretty special when you can combine all of those things."

Iginla's greatness has been widely acknowledged. He led the NHL in 2002 with 52 goals and 96 points, winning the Rocket Richard and Art Ross Trophies, was named to the NHL First All-Star Team and was awarded the Lester B. Pearson Trophy by his fellow players as the League's most valuable player. He tied for the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2004 with 41 goals.

Iginla was named to the 1997 All-Rookie Team and finished second in voting for the Calder Trophy behind Bryan Berard. He was the runner-up for the 2002 Hart Trophy, behind goalie Jose Theodore.

Does 409 goals sound like a lot? It sure does, especially when you multiply it by $2,000. Since 2000, Iginla has been an ambassador for KidSport Calgary, which purchases equipment and pays registration fees for disadvantaged families and donates $2,000 for every goal he scores. He supports the Juvenile Diabetes and Doctors Without Borders foundations and is a member of the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation.

Iginla donates time and money to a variety of other causes, including literacy programs, hockey-diversity initiatives and youth-hockey programs. He was awarded the 2004 NHL Foundation Award for community service and the 2004 King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his humanitarian contributions.

Teammates say Iginla leads more by example than talk. He'll say something, usually quietly, when it needs to be said. But he sets a tone with his work ethic and expects everyone else to be equally committed to team success.

"As far as being vocal, I've been here for 12 years and I'm 32 years old, so each year you feel more comfortable," Iginla said of getting his message across. "I wouldn't say I'm quiet or anything, but there are certain things that as a group you have to address.

"Part of being a captain is understanding it's definitely not just one guy. It's important to have help in assistants and older guys that have been around. We have all seen different things and bring different things to the table. It's important to be able to lean on each other because sometimes we're all seeing different things."

It's one of the great ironies that Iginla grew up in Edmonton, rooting for the Oilers and their great captain, Mark Messier. Now he plays for the Oilers' most hated rival in the Battle of Alberta and is the current NHL player most compared to Messier.

"Everybody knows his skill level and what he brings offensively. But when his team is down, he lifts them. He fights for his teammates and that's an attribute that not too many captains have."
-- Martin Gelinas on Jarome Iginla

"They are two fierce competitors, and both are well-respected," Gelinas said. "It's a tough game when you play against them. They are willing to fight, score, or do whatever it takes to win. They are in the same league as leaders in their willingness to help make their teammates better."

Gelinas didn't search long when asked his most memorable recollection of Iginla's leadership. It was a do-or-die situation, one that Iginla had a (negative) hand in creating.

"In Game 7 of our first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks in 2004, we were winning by one goal," Gelinas recalled. "We were going to win that game with only seconds left to play. Jarome picked up a loose puck after a faceoff and shot at the empty net. Someone threw a jersey on the ice, puck doesn't go in. Then Jarome tripped and they scored to tie the game with seconds left.

"Jarome comes into the dressing room and he's very calm, looks everyone in the eye and tell us we're in great position to win this game in overtime, it's just a little setback. He was calm and knew exactly what he wanted to do and sure enough we won that game."

Typical Gelinas modesty. Gelinas, Iginla and Stephane Yelle swarmed the Vancouver zone in OT. All three had shots on Canucks goalie Alex Auld before Gelinas fired Iginla's rebound past Auld at 1:25 of overtime.

Gelinas is now in a position to influence young players en route to NHL careers. He picked up a lot in his 21-year NHL career, including what it takes to be a leader.

"I played on a lot of teams and had a lot of leaders in my career," he said, "and Jarome is by far my favorite."

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