Former Calgary Flames forward Jarome Iginla was both a great hockey player and a class act. Now, he’s on his way in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
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In this post, I want to help fans get to know the former Flame a little better. Here are 7 Cool Things about Iginla.
#1: Jarome Iginla Has a Beautiful Singing Voice
Iginla wasn’t what you would call a vocal team captain, and that’s a bit of a surprise because he’s actually a vocalist. When he was growing up in Edmonton, music was a huge part of his life; his grandmother was a music teacher, and his mom was also a singer.
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Iginla learned to play the piano from his grandmother, and he had a beautiful voice. For several years he was chosen to sing solos at local music festivals.
As Iginla noted: “I grew up in Edmonton with my grandma, my mom, and my aunt involved with music. They put me in a local music festival every year from grades one to seven. I sang or read poetry.”
Although he thought it “was cool being in front of people,” he also thought it was tough, but his “grandma had incentives, like buying me a new Walkman or something.”
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One of Iginla’s most nerve-racking moments on the ice wasn’t about him but about his mom, Susan. He remembers when she sang the Canadian and U.S. national anthems at a game against the New York Rangers on Hockey Night in Canada.
Iginla admits, “I’ve never been so nervous before a game, thinking, Mom, please hit every note and don’t forget the words!”
#2: Iginla’s Full Name Is Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tij Junior Elvis Iginla
As Iginla explains it, Arthur-Leigh is his dad’s middle name, and Adekunle was his first name in Nigeria before he came to Canada at age 18. His dad changed his name to Elvis “because he thought it was cool,” and Tij, a name he gave his son, was short for Tijani which was his grandfather’s (on his father’s side) name in Nigeria. Iginla, by the way, means “big tree” [in Yoruba].
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Although his parents divorced when he was a year old, they remained close. His father went to law school and specialized in injury law. He is also good at ping-pong and Iginla admits that, when he played tournaments with his Flames teammates, his father was better than anyone on the team.
#3: Iginla’s First Love Was Baseball
Interestingly, Iginla’s grandfather Rick Schuchard introduced him to sports and encouraged him to become an athlete. Every year, he took his grandson to a baseball tournament in Lacombe, which Iginla loved. One of his first sports “contracts” paid him 50 cents for every ball he shagged during that tournament.
Iginla noted that he was mostly a catcher and a pitcher, and played a little shortstop on a travel team. His dream was to be like Bo Jackson and play both hockey and baseball. He loved both sports equally and stayed with baseball until he was about 17.
#4: Iginla Started Out As a Goalie
At the baseball tournament in Lacombe, Iginla met his hero and favourite player – Edmonton Oilers goaltender Grant Fuhr. He was drawn to Fuhr because of his African heritage and because he liked the goalie’s style. As a result, Iginla became a goalie and played his first two years of organized hockey in that position.
He also became a goalie because he wasn’t a naturally strong skater. While the others glided effortlessly, Iginla struggled when he first started playing hockey. He never was lightning-fast on the ice, which might be the only weakness in his game.
#5: Iginla Grew Up an Edmonton Oilers Fan
Iginla loved hockey and was motivated by the success of the Oilers who were in the midst of a run of four Stanley Cups. The Oilers had some of the NHL’s best players in Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, Jari Kurri, and Fuhr. One reason this group kept making the All-Star Game was that Iginla and his friends would grab handfuls of ballots and stuff the ballot box with votes for their hometown heroes.
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Iginla admits, “I grew up an Oilers fan, and I never would have imagined playing for Calgary. It took a long time to convert some of my friends and family members. Some I’ve just given up on converting. They give me the token, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re cheering for both teams,’ but it’s easy to see where the real allegiances lie.”
6: Iginla Was an Afterthought for the 2002 Olympic Games
One of Iginla’s favourite hockey experiences was the gold medal game against Team US at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002. He noted, “Half the crowd were Canadian fans, half were US fans. They had painted faces. They were singing before the game. There was such passion. That was the most exciting game I’ve ever been a part of. We wanted to win so bad.”
Canada won 5-2 and Iginla contributed greatly. However, he almost didn’t make the team. He was injured the season before and was coming off surgery and rehab. That injury had eliminated him from the 2001 World Championship team that lost to Team USA in the quarterfinals in Germany.
In September 2001, Gretzky (then executive director of Canada’s 2002 Olympic men’s hockey team) phoned Iginla because he needed to replace an injured player. Iginla was at dinner at the time and thought the call was a prank perpetrated by teammate Marc Savard, who was a great practical joker.
Iginla phoned former Oilers general manager Kevin Lowe, the general manager of Team Canada, who confirmed Gretzky had called. Iginla called back and Gretzky explained that the team had a scrimmage in Calgary the next day and asked if Iginla could make it. Gretzky didn’t promise Iginla a spot on the Olympic team, but Iginla jumped in his Porsche 911 and drove through the night to get to practice on time.
Gretzky was impressed with Iginla’s play and gave the 24-year-old a spot the team. Good call. Iginla scored two goals in the gold-medal game, helping Canada to win the country’s first men’s Olympic hockey gold in 50 years.
7: Iginla Is Generous and Doesn’t Seek Attention
Iginla’s on and off-ice leadership helped make him a great player and person. He won both the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for humanitarian contribution and the Mark Messier Leadership Award for on-ice leadership, motivation, and work with charitable causes.
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Former Flames goalie and current TSN announcer Jamie McLennan is one of Iginla’s closest friends and lauds Iginla for his generosity and for refusing to have his name attached to good deeds. In a recent TSN article, McLennan recalled when Iginla ran into four young guys from Calgary at a restaurant in Salt Lake City who had – on a whim – driven to Utah without a hotel room or tickets but wanted to see Team Canada play. They were sleeping in their car.
They asked Iginla for nothing other than a photo with them. Iginla wished them ‘good luck’ and left after casually asking for their phone number.
As McLennan tells it, “They later got a phone call saying that Iggy had arranged a hotel room for them and tickets, in the middle of the Olympics. He didn’t want them to tell anybody, but they couldn’t help not sharing the story.”
The Final Comment: Iginla Was a Great Player and the Gold Standard
Iginla ended his NHL career with 1,300 points, scoring 625 goals and 675 assists. He was perhaps the NHL’s most dominant power forward for more than a decade. He scored 50 goals twice, and in five seasons he was better than a point-per-game player.
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Among Iginla’s NHL awards, perhaps the most prestigious for an athlete – I would guess – is the respect of his peers. That’s why winning the Ted Lindsay Award as MVP (voted on by other NHL players) in 2001-02 might be the most special. He also won the Art Ross Trophy that same season as NHL’s leading point producer, two Rocket Richard trophies as leading goal scorer (2001-02 and 2003-04), and three first-team All-Star selections.
McLennan’s final comment about his friend Iginla is that “You realize pretty quickly how special he is. He is very thoughtful, level-headed … he pays attention. I think that’s rubbed off on all of us as friends. He really is the gold standard.”