Monday, April 11, 2016

It's the NHL and Jarome Iginla at 39 is still young

By Larry Wigge

It rarely happens that you play 17, 18 years. But ...

Forty-four year old Jaromir Jagr and 37 year old Joe Thornton have made the older generation live again. Playing at 40 or above is the new rage.

Let's count Jarome Iginla, 39, in for next year -- the Colorado Avalanche power-forward said he's ready for all of the off-season training.

On the last day of the 2015-16 season, Iginla's goal against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday afternoon marked his 611th career tally, which moved him to take sole possession of 16th overall in career NHL goals scored by surpassing Bobby Hull's 610 goals. He's nearing in on an Avalanche legend, as well -- with the 611th goal, Iginla is now just 14 goals behind Joe Sakic for 15th all-time in league history.

Iginla’s eye-popping resume includes gold medals, countless individual accolades and more goals than even the most pie-in-the-sky kid could dream of ... except a Stanley Cup.

"I have lots to be appreciative about," Iginla explained. "I've gotten to play 19 years. I've gotten to play on a few good teams and get to be in the Cup final (with the Flames in 2004) and get to play for Team Canada ... "

Iginla's second effort on scoring No. 611 tells me he's got lots more to give.

"I'd love to win. I'm still enjoying it and I want to still push for it and I still believe it can happen. But to play as long as I have and to play in the situations and with guys I’ve played with, it's been awesome.

"But, saying that, I would love to get the cherry on top. I'd love to be part of winning, there's no question."

Iginla's rebound of his own shot for his 22nd goals to go along with 25 assists this season. It was his 17th 20-goal season, though in his career 52 goals in 20001-02 was his career-high. He also scored 50 again in 2007-08 and topped the 40-goal mark twice.

"He's one of those special players that don't come along to often,” said Arizona's Shane Doan. "I can't say enough good things about him as a player. He's everything that I think every player wants to be. He's tough. He scores goals. He makes plays. He does everything for everybody. And yet, as a person, he's that much better. I'm a huge, huge fan.”

Who did you watch hockey with when you were growing up?

"I grew up in a city just outside of Edmonton, St. Albert. So I watched NHL games with my grandpa," Iginla said. "Whoever Edmonton played, I watched. So, the guys I looked up to -- Edmonton had great teams -- Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, those are two of my favorites. Also, Grant Fuhr. Being a minority, and not many black players in the NHL, it was a big deal to me to try to follow as many of the black players in the NHL.

"But Gretzky and Messier for how great they were, their on ice achievements and winning, and Grant Fuhr, being an All-Star. I loved goalies for a long time, debated wanting to be one growing up, so those are the guys."

Actually, Iginla was big into baseball as a youngster.

"I grew up wanting to be a two-sport star like Bo Jackson," Iginla said. "But the opportunities were better in hockey being from Canada."

Your full name is Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla. How long did it take to write your name?

"It took a long time," he said emphatically. "Just pronouncing my name was hard enough. I got it down except for the Adekunle part, I still have trouble pronouncing it. It was fun growing up, people couldn't believe it, so I had to pull out my birth certificate."

Your father's from Nigeria. When he came to Canada, he changed his name to Elvis. Does that mean you grew up listening to a lot of Elvis?

"No," he laughs. "He thought Elvis was a common name, like Mike or Mark, and he just liked the name and gave it to himself. At the time, he didn't realize it was unique. His original name was Adekunle, and people had a hard time pronouncing it, that's why he changed it."

Your grandmother and your mother were music teachers, and at one time, your mother delivered singing telegrams. How much was music part of your life growing up?

"Music was a big part of my upbringing. My mum and my grandma are very passionate about music," he said. "As a child, along with my cousins, we went to a few music festivals. We were coerced into singing in front of everyone. It's hard to talk about it because people think I'm musical, but I'm really not. My grandma thinks everybody's musical, especially her grandkids."

Your parents were divorced when you were 2. That gave you a chance to live with you grandfather and grandma.

"To me, there's a lot of pride in where you come from," Iginla added. "I know I'm proud of my parents and grandparents. They brought me up to treat everyone the way you'd like people to treat you. What a great lesson, eh?"

Iginla is everyman's hero? You could say that he the closest thing to Tiger Woods in the NHL. Big. Strong. Handsome. Quotable. Divergent. Powerful. Magnetic and charismatic personality.

"The way I'm trying to view it is, it's kind of like going to a Team Canada thing or an Olympics thing, where you're ready for any role," Iginla said. "That's where I'm at and that's what I'm going to draw on ... and be ready to play hard and have fun.

"You always want to win, that's what we're made to do and what we want to do. You definitely feel a little more urgency to win."

The closest Jarome Iginla came the winning the Stanley Cup was on 2004 -- Game 7 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Flames -- won by the Lighting, 2-1.

You could still tell that Iginla was bothered by the near miss.

"When you get that close and then you hear the other team fan, the other fans celebrating to Simply the Best and We are the Champions, that hurt. It hurt a lot. We didn't know who was holding the Cup, but each time someone else took it, you could hear the fans go nuts. We're just sitting there, soaking all of this in and imagining what it would feel like ... if it was us."

The Flames were THAT close.

"One side of me thinks about how close we were to winning it all," continued Iginla. "But the other of me about playing again and getting another chance to get back. I thought I wanted to win a Stanley Cup before -- and I did -- but it's a whole new level, a whole new passion to get back there ... and win."

The 6-foot-1, 207-pound Edmonton native, who was the No. 11 pick by the Dallas Stars in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, was only traded back in December 1995 because the Stars had an opportunity to acquire Joe Nieuwendyk, who himself scored 50 goals twice.

Individual accolades Jarome Iginla has. It's the last kick at the Stanley Cup can that he wants.

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