Flashing his signature Colgate smile each time he picked a puck up at centre, Jarome Iginla rarely missed converting in a shootout the other day in Vernon.
Not only did the Calgary Flames’ captain show some pretty sick moves in beating a young Midget-aged goalie, but he schooled Leland Irving of the American League’s Abbotsford Heat.
Iginla, his wife Kara – the two were junior high sweethearts in St. Albert – and three kids headed to their Okanagan summer home on his July 1 birthday. Known for his explosive off-ice workouts, Iginla also goes extraordinarily hard on the ice come the summer.
“I’m working on ‘em,” he laughed, when asked about his shootout repertoire. “I’ve definitely got some stuff to work on. It’s really just been (working on) overall game, and we get a chance at shootouts and some power skating and stuff. Just trying to get better and the summer’s the time you can work on some of the things that are a little harder for you. That’s what you try to do here, and all these guys too so it’s been a good group.”
Chuck Kobasew, who calls Vernon his summer home, and a few other Midget players from the area skate regularly with Iginla, who is trying to become a more efficient skater these days.
Iggy, as he is affectionately known, says he still loves the game and remains optimistic the Flames can win a Stanley Cup. They came close in 2004, losing to Tampa Bay in seven games.
The part owner of the Western League Kamloops Blazers, where he won two Memorial Cups as a player, likes today’s NHL whereby just earning a playoff berth makes you a Cup contender.
“It is exciting. Before, if you were on some of those powerhouses with the higher budgets, maybe that was more exciting. It did feel like, before, it’d be a pretty big upset and there were about four teams usually – Colorado, Detroit on our side, the Western Conference, every year, were the ones to look to.
“Now, there’s some teams at the top, but the gap’s definitely closed. After that, there’s some really young teams, but there’s a whole group in the middle that are very similar teams. It’s all about how you gel together and how you play. If you make the playoffs, literally anything can happen and it is exciting because that’s the best part about starting a new year is when you go into it, you know that if the right things fall into place, it could happen for us.”
Harshly called Iggy Flop by the Cowtown media when the Flames are losing, Iginla is loyal to the team which landed he and Corey Millen in a 1995 trade with Dallas for Joe Nieuwendyk, who was then in a contract dispute with the Flames.
“I love playing in Calgary. I kind of feel like I’ve grown up there, been there about 15 years or so. I’m 34 now and 19 then. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s a great hockey city. The fans are very passionate, but also very supportive. As a team, I have really enjoyed playing there but I’m not just playing to play it out because it’s comfortable or want to stay because it’s comfortable.
“I believe we can win there, and our owners are committed to winning, and they’re near the top of the salary cap year in and year out. We haven’t got it right yet, but I believe we will. Other teams are in different situations where they financially can’t get there, they can’t keep their players, they can’t go out and get that extra player.”
Iginla, who as a 15-year-old racked up 87 points with St. Albert Midget Raiders, gets a blast out of the bitter Calgary-Edmonton rivalry. He looks forward to facing the Oilers with all their young super kids.
“It’s fun because it shifts. It’s Battle of Alberta and then Vancouver’s in there. And over the years, whatever the strongest team, the other two just take so much pride in knocking them off. The Canucks have been the team Edmonton dislikes the most, but every time we play them, it’s a lot of fun.
“They have a very good, young team and some great potential and every year you know that they’re getting better and they’re just going to keep getting better and better. I’m 34, I’d like to play for a while but we’d like to keep staying ahead of them. We both want to get to the playoffs and give yourselves a chance.”
Iginla marvels at the new course at Predator Ridge. He’s a five handicap who plays once or twice a week with Kobasew, who is currently ahead in the unofficial stats.
“It’s awesome,” said Iginla, of the new Predator course. “I don’t live too far from Predator so I’m very fortunate to play the course a lot in the summer and definitely one of the highlights coming here is just to relax. You have two amazing courses here, and around town, you’ve got Tower Ranch, The Rise, Predator, and the Harvest, they’re all so close. It’s fun. I love golf and it’s a nice way to relax and have a change of pace from the season.”
Iginla donates $2,000 to KidSport for every goal he scores, and is involved in many community projects in Calgary. Former Flames GM Craig Button once said Iginla was a better person than a player, always thinking of others and being extremely polite and generous.
He showed his character at the OTR, taking a few minutes to address a group of kids hitting the ice for a hockey school, signing all of their jerseys and posing for a few photographs.