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Jarome's no ordinary Joe

by Staff Writer / Dallas Stars

May 25, 2004

By Ralph Strangis

The Dallas Stars went to the 1995 draft with the 11th overall pick in their back pocket. They left with a then 18 year-old kid from Edmonton whose name was hard to pronounce but who would finish his junior career by cutting a wake of destruction through the Western Hockey League.

Jarome Iginla would score 63 goals and 136 points and rack up 120 penalty minutes in that final year in Kamploops. Meanwhile the team that just drafted him wouldn't be able to wait for him to even finish that season. Behind an infusion of energy and much-needed working capital, the "Tom Hicks Dallas Stars" were beginning to put their plans of being a contender into motion.

Very high on the Star's wish list was to get a bona fide second line center to play behind and help push Mike Modano. Those players being, well, really, really hard to find and all, Dallas GM Bob Gainey was intrigued by what was happening in Calgary.

Joe Nieuwendyk -- Calgary's main man -- was having issues with Flames brass regarding his financial future with the team. The timing for both teams was excellent. Calgary couldn't hang on to Nieuwendyk and the Stars needed that player now, not a prospect who may or may not pan out later.

And so the trigger was pulled and there was much rejoicing in "Big D". And Joe Nieuwendyk was everything the Stars could have ever wanted, and a whole lot more.With Nieuwendyk and a host of others the Dallas Stars went from Conference "wannabe" to perennial contender. There would be five-straight division crowns, two Presidents' Trophies, two trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, and the 1999 Stanley Cup.

Jarome Iginla put up a very respectable 28 goals and 51 points that season(1998-99) and was the only Flames player to appear in all 82 games. But he watched the playoffs from his couch. He watched as the player he was traded for held the Cup high above his head and left with the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Many who watched the playoffs that season felt that the Conn Smythe Trophy could have gone to Stars goaltender Ed Belfour. I would have personally had no problem with that. But the importance of Nieuwendyk's contributions to this franchise cannot be overlooked, nor can they be overstated.

Remember that he was having probably his best run as a Dallas Star in late 1998. If memory serves he led the NHL in scoring in the final month or so of the regular season. He went shooting into the playoffs with a huge head of steam until Brian Marchment derailed his post-season. Marchment later admitted the transgression with an on-ice apology to Joe, but the Stars without Nieuwendyk would fall to Detroit in the Conference Final. The following year a healthy Nieuwendyk would trail only Modano and Hull in team scoring for the season and lead them with big goals at big times toward the franchise's only title.

Nieuwendyk pushed Modano, and he supported him. Dallas' "MO-JO" was as good a "one-two punch" as anyone had. And the simple truth is this -- before and after Joe Nieuwendyk, this franchise has not been as good. Yes the same could be said for others, but Nieuwendyk's effect on his team, on his team's best players, on the fans and in the community can only be compared to, well, what Jarome Iginla is doing now in Calgary.

The nation that claims hockey (and in most cases the NHL) as its own hasn't had a Stanley Cup Champion since 1993. The Calgary Flames hadn't been to the playoffs in seven seasons and hadn't won a playoff series since they (with a young Joe Nieuwendyk) beat Montreal in the 1989 final.

Iginla's numbers over the past four seasons are almost without peer. This season marked the second time that no other NHL player found the net more times than Jarome. He'll score, scrap, fight, scream, and lead by example. He is the finest of what the game can give us -- an honest player with skill who will 'talk the talk' and then 'walk the walk'. Iginla asks for a big role, on and off the ice, deflecting credit away from himself and assuming responsibility when his team isn't at their best. He's involved locally in his community, and if you spend even five minutes with him, you're charmed and impressed at the person he is.

In the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs Iginla's sixth seeded Flames knocked off all three Western Conference Division winners (Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose). And in every big game or deciding game, you notice him the most. Not just scoring, but sacrificing so others can score. This kid is the "Real Deal." This kid is someone every fan of the sport can appreciate and every young person can look up to. He's a Captain's Captain. And he's only going to get better.

So should we fantasize about what might have been? Well you can. I have. I sometimes think about how he would look out there next to Modano -- dragging Mike into the battle every night, sticking up for him, and finishing all the sweet feeds Mike would send his way. I think about having him in that group with Brenden Morrow and Marty Turco and now Steve Ott and other Dallas youngsters and wonder what the future might have held with the NHL's new reigning stud wearing Dallas Stars colors.

But you know what, Championships are really, really hard to win. And Jarome hasn't won one...yet. He might, and it's possible that with him the Stars might have.

But here's what is. The Dallas Stars are the 1999 Stanley Cup Champions. And it was a heck of a time. Most fans in most markets will never have a time like that.

The price was high. Well you know what?

It should have been.

Ralph Strangis is preparing to start his 15th season in the broadcast booth with the Dallas Stars, and his 9th as the club's play-by-play broadcaster.

Strangis is also serving as tournament host for the 2004 Park Place Dealerships Celebrity Golf Classic, benefiting Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas which will take place Monday, August 16th at Mira Vista Golf Club in Fort Worth and Tuesday, August 17th at the TPC Four Seasons Resort and Club in Las Colinas.

Click here for more information on the Big Brothers Big Sisters North Texas Celebrity Golf Classic.

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