Facing Off: Q&A with Jarome Iginla

Updated: October 28, 2005, 12:46 PM ET
By David Amber | Special to ESPN.com

On Dec. 19, 1995, the Calgary Flames traded away former playoff MVP and fan favorite Joe Nieuwendyk to the Dallas Stars for promising teenager Jarome Iginla. At the time, the move was heavily criticized by both fans and media in Calgary.

Jarome Iginla
Iginla

A decade later, it's a different story.

Iginla, 28, is arguably the biggest star to play for the Flames. In this week's edition of "Facing Off," Iginla talks about how his upbringing has helped him find success in Calgary.

Question from David Amber: Jarome, your full name is Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla. As a child, how long did it take you to learn write your name?

Answer from Jarome Iginla: Ah yeah, it took a long time. Just pronouncing my name was hard enough. My dad still works on it with me. 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.

Q: 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?

FAST FACTS -- Jarome Iginla
• Born in Edmonton to a Nigerian father and an American mother.

• In the Toruba language of Nigeria, Iginla means "Big Tree."

• Grew up playing catcher on a team that won their Provincial championship.

• First two NHL games were in the playoffs against the Blackhawks in 1996 (had a goal and an assist).

• In the 2001-02 season, he led NHL with 52 goals.

• Seventh Calgary Flames player to score at least 50 goals in a season (Lanny McDonald, Joe Nieuwendyk, Hakan Loob, Joe Mullen, Theo Fleury and Gary Roberts).

• Fifth highest paid player in the NHL (Jaromir Jagr, Keith Tkachuk, Nicklas Lidstrom and Alexei Yashin).

• If he didn't play professional hockey, he said he would like to be a lawyer like his father, Elvis.

• In 2002, he won the Lester B. Pearson award, the Art Ross trophy and the Rocket Richard trophy.

A: [Laughs] No. 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.

Q: Your grandmother was a music teacher, and at one time, your mother delivered singing telegrams. How much was music part of your life growing up?

A: Music was a big part of my upbringing. My mum and my grandma are very passionate about music. 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. My mum just graduated from the University of Alberta with a degree in music. She now is a music teacher in Calgary.

Q: What was it like for you having to sing in front of all these strangers at these festivals?

A: It was so nerve wracking. I look back at it and I was so nervous, but it helped me to get over being in front of people. I started around age 6 or 7, and stopped when I was 12. I look back on it and I probably enjoy it more now than during [that time].

Q: I read that in grade school you sold your lunch to buy video games, is this true?

A: [Laughs] Yeah, that's true. My mum was a single parent [Iginla's parents divorced when he was 2], she didn't cook too much, she worked a lot, but she always made sure I had a big lunch. The lunches were good, but I could do without about half of it, so I was a businessman. I changed parts of my lunch or I asked my mom to get me lunch items that I knew would be good trade material. It was great. I would trade what I didn't want for video games.

Q: You grew up playing competitive baseball. Why did you quit that sport for hockey?

A: When I was younger, to be honest, watching Bo Jackson, I dreamed of playing both sports. But as I got older, the opportunities were much better in hockey than baseball. And I was a better hockey player than baseball [player]. But I loved baseball and still do.

Q: You played goalie your first two years of organized hockey. Why?

A: I was a big fan of Grant Fuhr. I was a big Oilers fan growing up. I started out playing goal, but there wasn't enough action. So I decided to play out, and I'm thankful, 'cause goalie is a tough position.

Q: You were born and raised in Edmonton and now you're playing for the dreaded Flames, what's that like?

A: It wasn't a big adjustment for me. But I've been here nine years and I'm still having a tough time converting some of my old friends into Flames fans. The best some of them will do is cheer for both teams, but I don't think that's good enough. But to go back and play in Edmonton is fun; it's cool 'cause that's the only NHL rink I got to see any games in as a kid.

Q: Do you get booed in any NHL arena? Where?

A: Oh yeah. This year in Chicago, I got booed during the shootout. You kind of enjoy it as long as it's not your home crowd.

Q: Tell us about your first game in the NHL?

A: The actual true story is that my junior team [Kamloops Blazers] had been eliminated the night before, so we went out as a group for our end of the year party, and we were out all night. The Flames had a one o'clock game the next day. So, they flew me in from Kamloops, but they told me I wasn't going to play, I was only going to watch the game and the next day I would practice with the team. So, I get to Calgary on no sleep, they take me to the Saddledome to sign my contract, and the next thing I know, they tell me I'm going to play that afternoon. I get my equipment and walk into the Flames' dressing room and my teammates are already half dressed. It was the wildest thing. Back in Kamloops, the guys I had been out with the night before were getting woken up by their parents telling them I was on the ice playing for the Flames. And they we're like, 'No way, I was just with Jarome hours ago.' It was pure adrenaline. The whole experience was surreal. The night before, I was cheering for Theo Fleury, and now I am centering Fleury and shooting on Ed Belfour.

Q: So that was your first game, you had an assist. In your second game, you scored your first NHL goal. What do you remember most about that?

A: I remember every time I got the puck, I was excited that maybe I would score my first goal. I remember pulling out in the high slot, and I got a pass from German Titov, put it low corner on Belfour and it was really cool.

Q: You have won two Memorial Cups, you've also won gold medals at the World Championships, the World Cup of Hockey, the World Junior Championships and the Olympics. Would you trade all of that for a Stanley Cup title?

A: [Long pause] I don't know if that's an answerable question because I hope to win a Stanley Cup, but I look back at all the memories and how much each experience has helped me in my career. That's a tough question. Being so close to a Stanley Cup, I thought I was hungry before, and I was. But when you get that close and you hear the other team celebrate and their fans celebrate, that was the lowest hockey moment I have had. I am hungrier than ever to win a Cup, but I don't want to give up all those great memories with my friends winning all those championships.

Q: What was it like getting so close to winning a Stanley Cup, and then, because of the lockout, having to wait 16 months before you could play another NHL game?

A: It was tough. To be so close and tasting how it would be and then not playing for so long was hard. But now that we're back, I appreciate it that much more, and I think to win in Calgary, we'll appreciate it so much after hitting rock bottom as a group. I would just love to have that comparison between the low and the high, it would be unbelievable.

Q: Back in 2001, five months before the Olympics, Wayne Gretzky, as the executive director of the Canadian hockey team, tried to contact you. What happened there?

A: I watched the first day of orientation camp on TV. That night, I was out to dinner with my family, when my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, called saying Wayne Gretzky had called me, asking me to come to camp. My first impression was that someone was playing a joke and how funny it would be if I pull in with my equipment and I wasn't supposed to be there. That would be a cruel joke, but we had some pranksters on our team. So I called back and found out it was legitimate, but I did have my doubts when I heard it.

Q: You've had 33 NHL fights. What makes you snap when you're on the ice?

A: Thirty-three? Wow, I didn't know that. Sometimes you get into fights if a teammate is getting taken advantage of, sometimes just from competing and you feel someone takes a cheap shot. It's just the intensity. It's an intense game, sometimes you just get too fired up and fights happen.

Q: You fought Sean Avery back in 2003. Avery recently was accused of using a racial slur against Georges Laraque during a game. As a kid growing up in a sport dominated by white athletes, what kinds of issues did you face?

A: There were some things over the years. What I mostly heard was 'Why are you playing hockey? There are no black players in the NHL. What are your chances?' … things like that. But it really helped me a lot, I would tell those people that there are black players, you just don't know the game. Look at Grant Fuhr winning Stanley Cups. Look at Claude Vilgrain scoring 30 goals or Tony McKegney. Those guys were really helpful in me following my dream.

Q: What impact do you think you're having on young black kids who follow the game?

A: I hope it's a positive one. You want to have a positive influence on kids if you can. I think hockey is a great sport. It's a fun sport. I've made great friends and I love competing, so if there are kids who love the game too and dream to be in the NHL, I'd be flattered if I could be someone they looked up to and see me as someone that will help them follow their dream. I hope more black kids get involved in hockey, it's an awesome sport and hopefully it's a positive.

Q: Is Jarome Iginla the best player in the NHL?

A: Oh, no. It's a thrill when a couple of different articles say it or when a reporter says it, that's a very nice compliment. But I don't really think like that. There are so many good players in the league who do so many different things. It's nice to be considered the best, but there's still work to be done.

David Amber is an anchor for ESPN and a contributor to ESPN.com.

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