Iginla, Jarome 1977–
Jarome Iginla 1977–
Professional Hockey Player
Following his 2001-02 season playing for the Calgary Flames, Jarome Iginla became the first black player to lead the National Hockey League (NHL) in scoring. In 2002, as a member of Team Canada, Iginla added Olympic gold to two other medals he has won as part of Team Canada’s hockey program—one for the 1995 World Junior Championships and one for the 1997 World Championships. He was also nominated for the NHL’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award in 2002.
His amazing power and deft scoring are only a small part of what makes Iginla an outstanding athlete. He donates $1, 000 for each goal he scores to Kidsport Calgary, which provides hockey equipment for underprivileged children. He also works with the NHL’s diversity task force in trying to spread the game to places where hockey has never been popular, such as American inner cities. It is rare that an elite athlete combines top athletic skills with incredible generosity and authenticity, but Iginla fills the bill.
Iginla’s father emigrated from Nigeria at the age of 18. Adekunle Iginla put himself through law school and changed his name to Elvis because people in Edmonton could not pronounce his real name. He met and married Susan Schuchard, whose family came to Edmonton by way of Medford, Oregon. Jarome was born in 1977, but his parents divorced before his second birthday. Iginla grew up with his mother, a practicing Buddhist, and was introduced to hockey by his grandfather at the age of seven. Despite his late start in the game (by Canadian standards) he quickly distinguished himself as a superior talent and was playing junior hockey by the age of 14. At the age of 17 Iginla scored 71 points in 72 games and was drafted by the NHL in the first round (11th overall) by the Dallas Stars. In his last season of junior hockey, Iginla scored 63 goals in 63 games and added 73 assists for a total of 136 points. Despite his incredible season in juniors, Iginla was traded by the Stars to the Calgary Flames, along with another young player, for established NHL star Joe Nieuwdyk.
Though Iginla appeared in two playoff games as a Calgary Flame at the end of the 1995-96 season (in which he netted two points), his first full campaign in the NHL came in the 1996-97 season. As he had done on every other level of play, Iginla flourished. In his first
At a Glance…
Born on July 1, 1977, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, to Elvis (Adekunle) Iginla (a lawyer) and Susan Schucard.
Career: Drafted in the NHL’s first round by the Dallas Stars, 1995; named to Canada’s team for the World Junior Championships, 1995; traded to the Calgary Flames, 1996; first appearance in an NHL game in Flames playoff game, 1996; named to Canadian team for the World Championships, 1997; member, Team Canada, Salt Lake City Olympics, 2002.
Awards: First team All-Star for the Canadian Hockey League and the World Hockey League, 1995-96; named to the NHL All-Rookie Team, 1996-97; Team Canada gold medal, Salt Lake City Olympics, 2002; Maurice Richard Award, 2002; Art Ross Trophy, 2002; Hart Memorial Trophy, nominee, 2002; Scurfield Humanitarian Award, 2002.
Address: Office —Calgary Flames, P.O. Box 1540 Stn. M. Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3B9.
20 games in the league, he tallied 16 points and racked up a plus-minus rating of plus six. But Pierre Page, his coach at the time, focused more on Iginla’s character than on his skills, when telling Jeff Gordon of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about his new star: “I don’t know if there has been a young guy like this in the last few years. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard the word ‘money’ come out of his mouth. He’s so refreshing. Our game needs more and more like that, to sell the game and represent the game. I don’t know if any coach can think of any 19-year-old this fundamentally sound. He makes good decisions under pressure. The more pressure, the better he plays.” In the 1996-97 season Iginla netted 50 points with 21 goals, and was named to the NHL All-Rookie team. The following year he battled a wrist injury and scored only 13 goals in 70 games, but returned to form in the 1998-99 season, scoring 28 goals and 23 assists.
Prior to the 1999-2000 season, Iginla had a dispute with his team over money. He held out through all of training camp as well as through the first three games of the regular season, before finally settling on a three-year, $5 million deal. When he joined the team, it was obvious that he was rusty. Iginla did not score in his first 11 games and the Flames went winless in the team’s first 19 games. Iginla, whose nickname is Iggy, was accustomed to reading headlines about Iggy Pop or Iggy Top, but after his slow start, the Calgary Sun called him Iggy Flop. After the first real taste of adversity in his career, Iggy Flop came back with strength, leading his sub-par team to within three points of a final Western Conference playoff berth. Iginla was named NHL Player of the Month in February of 2000—a time period in which he scored in 16 straight games and racked up 21 points. As always Iginla answered his critics on the ice and not with unseemly comments in the papers. He ended the season with a career-high 63 points, including 29 goals. During the 2001-02 season he improved further, scoring 31 goals and tallying 71 points. People around the league were now starting to notice Iginla, most notably NHL legend and Canadian hockey deity Wayne Gretzky, who served as the executive director for Team Canada during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
When Gretzky summoned Canada’s best to a preseason orientation for the upcoming Olympics, Iginla was left off the roster at first. After an injury to Philadelphia’s Simon Gagne, “The Great One” called on Iginla to join hockey’s most elite training camp. The 24-year-old forward told Jean LeFebvre of the Calgary Sun about his reaction to hearing the news: “I was really excited. I thought: ‘That’s awesome.’ Then I thought: ‘Ah, wait a minute here. It could be a joke. How embarrassing would it be to show up and not really be invited?’” But despite his trepidation about whether he belonged in such company, Iginla had indeed been invited to the pre-Olympic audition.
He returned to the Flames after the Olympic orientation camp and proceeded to lead the league in scoring almost from the first game of the season. At first he was stunned to read his name at the top of the scoring list, but by November Gretzky had called him the best forward in the league, and it was obvious to all observers but Iginla that he would be headed for Salt Lake City. Iginla told Lonnie White of the Los Angeles Times about the difference in his game during the 2001-02 season: “I don’t think it was as much getting on the legs and going and skating at that speed before camp; I think it was more mental. You know, there were the best players, some of the best players in the game, and competing alongside of them and being part of it really helped my confidence.”
Once Iginla got to the Olympics he was at first star-struck by his teammates. In his first game he played tentatively, passing up chances to shoot and playing as if he were afraid to make a mistake. Canada lost 5-2 to Sweden and the pressure on the team began to mount after only the first game. Again the turning point came when Iginla received a boost of confidence. Team Canada teammate and Colorado Avalanche superstar Joe Sakic was dropped from NHL-legend Mario Lemieux’s line to play with Iginla and Philadelphia’s Simon Gagne, another young player. Sakic’s reaction was crucial to Iginla’s sense of belonging.
Iginla told Michael Färber of Sports Illustrated what happened: “Joe’s like, Oh, it’s going to be fun playing with you young guys.’” Iginla added, “A part of me was saying, He must be thinking, Why me? Going from Mario to us. But even if he felt it was a demotion, he never acted as if it was. That meant a lot.” The new line combination got better and better with each game of the tournament and became an important part of a squad that ended up in the gold medal game with the United States. In the most important international match in 50 years for the hockey-crazy Canadian nation, Iginla scored two goals and linemate Sakic scored two more, as the pair led their team to a gold medal in a 5-2 victory over the Americans. Iginla became the first black man to win a Winter Olympics gold medal, but he remained humble, taking almost no credit for the historic Canadian victory.
Many professional athletes talk about their love of the game and for their fans, but during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Iginla showed his respect for the fans, his game, and his country. After one of Team Canada’s games Iginla was having dinner with his family when he was told there were four fans from Calgary at the next table. Iginla got up and talked to the four men, who had driven all the way to Utah to see the Canadian hockey team without tickets or even a place to stay. He discovered that they had been sleeping in their car in a hotel parking lot. The hockey star excused himself from the conversation. The four men were thrilled that they had spoken with one of their home-town heroes, but Iginla returned to their table about 15 minutes later. He informed the four shocked fans that he had booked them into the same hotel as his family. The men later found out that Iginla had also picked up the tab.
When Iginla returned to the NHL he picked up where he left off in the level of his playing. Though he was somehow left off the NHL All-Star ballot, he was even more confident than he was before the Olympics. Iginla powered through the rest of the season and achieved some startling statistics on a team that failed to make the playoffs for the sixth straight year. After the 2001-02 season Iginla captured the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals scored, with a total of 52. He won the Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring (goals and assists) with a total of 96, adding his name to those of NHL greats Gretzky, Lemieux, and Jaromir Jagr, who have won the Art Ross Trophy since 1980. He accounted for 52 of his team’s 201 total goals over the course of the season.
The Flames were also pushing for Iginla to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. Many NHL observers questioned whether a small-market Canadian team with an unfavorable exchange rate as compared with American clubs, could compete with a wealthy American team for what very well could be the league’s best player. But as always, Iginla has taken a humble attitude toward his success. He lost to Théodore José of the Montreal Canadiens. The 2001-02 season was the last year of Iginla’s contract, and his next contract will put him into the $5 to $7 million per year range. He told Damián Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times: “Thanks be to God I’ve been able to have the best season of my career going into it [the new contract]. I don’t overly think about it. But it has crossed my mind.”
Calgary Sun, December 16, 2001.
Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2001.
Sports Illustrated, March 11, 2002.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 20, 1996.
St. Petersburg Times, March 14, 2002.
Legends of Hockey, http://www.legendsofhockey.net:8080/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/SilverwareTrophyWinner.jsp?tro=HMT&year=2001-02
—Michael J. Watkins
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