Jarome Iginla has been through more than few ups and downs in his career.
From Olympic gold medals to crushing Stanley Cup defeat to captaining a basement-dwelling team, Iginla has been through his fair share of highs and lows. But as he enters a new era in his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Iginla is determined to finally reach the sport’s highest peak.
“I’m not as young as I once was,” Iginla told the Penguins website. “Every year that goes by you just want to win more and more and be a part of it. Leaving Calgary – which has been home for a long time and I’ve enjoyed playing there – when you leave you want to really have a great crack to win and I think they have that here. It’s great to join.”
It’s going to take a few games for Iginla to get used to playing with the firepower in the Penguins’s lineup. Their top-six forwards are being thought of as the core of an All-Star team. The additions of Iginla and Brenden Morrow have bolstered what was already an elite group.
Iginla spent 16 years in a Calgary Flames uniform. Although he was a draft pick of the Dallas Stars, Calgary has been the only NHL city Iginla has ever truly known. During his many seasons wearing red and white, Iginla became an inspirational role model for not just young Calgarians, but for Canadians as a whole. Now that he’s moving across the border to start a new quest for glory, Iginla knows it’ll be a bit before he becomes completely comfortable. But with the talent surrounding him, it’s expected his transition will be pretty smooth.
“I was a little lost as far as left wing and trying to adjust to different stuff,” Iginla said after his first game in a Pens uniform, a 2-0 victory over the New York Islanders, regarding playing a new position. “[James Neal] was trying to make it easier on me and was just going to switch me back. But as it went on, we switched back and kind of felt more comfortable. But yeah, it was nice of him in the first. Lots was happening quickly. You want to do good things out there, but you’re also trying to stay out of trouble and help the guys out.”
The adjustment to playing the left wing won’t be an easy, simple change for the Edmonton, Alberta native, but Iginla is confident he’ll adapt quickly.
“I played over my career, in Calgary, I remember way back I came in and switched wings and had a chance to play with Theo Fleury,” Iginla said before his first game as a Penguin. “He was the right winger and I switched to left. So at different times I’ve played left. Whatever [head coach Dan Bylsma] thinks, I look forward to trying it. It’s a lot easier than trying to shift to centre. Right or left isn’t that much different.”
Of course, with Morrow coming over from Dallas, defenseman Douglas Murray moving east from San Jose, and Iginla joining Pittsburgh after a long tenure as a legendary Flame, the Penguins have emerged as clear-cut Stanley Cup favorites. At least, that’s how it looks on paper. But it takes a lot more than big names to win championships.
Fortunately for Pens fans, general manager Ray Shero has brought in large amounts of an essential ingredient for success: passion.
With the Penguins mind-blowing combination of elite talent and veteran leadership, Iginla will find some fresh fuel in the youth around him, and will benefit from a now-reignited flame (Calgary fans, no pun intended).
“You can’t say enough about him,” Neal said after Saturday’s win, a game in which he played opposite Iginla on the same line. “[Iginla] was a guy I watched when I was growing up and now I’m sitting beside him in the locker room and playing with him. So talking to him a lot out there, he’s going to get used to our systems and he’s going to be a huge help to us.”
Iginla’s eyes and heart are set on winning a Stanley Cup championship. And though he’s suddenly facing new kinds of expectations, Iginla wouldn’t have it any other way.
David O’Connor is a managing editor with the Sunbelt Hockey Journal. His writing has been on the Los Angeles Times’ website, among other places. O’Connor also does some scouting work for the local Junior B hockey club. Please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.