Iginla: 'I'm proud to be a black NHL player'


A strong case could be made that no player was as important to the success of his team as Jarome Iginla was to the Calgary Flames last season.

Sure, Martin St. Louis won the Hart Trophy as league MVP and Miikka Kiprusoff posted unbelievable numbers, but the Flames are Iginla's team and he took them so much further than anyone could have imagined. Not only that, he may be the best all-around player in the NHL, to boot.

When the league starts up again, it will have its work cut out trying to win back old fans and lure new ones. On the bright side, teenage phenom Sidney Crosby is NHL-ready and waiting right around the corner, but there's no guarantee he'll be an immediate big league superstar.

Iginla, on the other hand, already is. And he's just 27, which means he has several years of improvement ahead of him.

That's good news for the league because it desperately needs a man like Iginla to lead the charge. Not only is he supremely skilled, he's eminently charming, a stellar ambassador and a respected role model.

The Flames' captain took time out from -- well -- from not playing, to chat with senior writer Mike Brophy about his vision of the NHL's future, his place as a black hockey player and playing for Calgary and coach Darryl Sutter.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: How long did it take you to get over losing the Stanley Cup final, particularly since Game 6 was in Calgary and went into overtime with the Flames leading the series 3-2?

JAROME IGINLA: I would say it took a couple of months before it didn't hurt to think about it. But at the same time, you have to look at what a great time it was and how fortunate you were to get to experience such an amazing playoff run. It was a great time for the city of Calgary. The end result wasn't there, but the dream run was unbelievable. The way I look at it now is, how much better will it be to win the Stanley Cup after having gone through losing the final? I thought I was hungry before, but when you get that close, I can honestly say I'm hungrier than ever.

THN: As you are going along in the playoffs beating teams that ranked higher than the Flames in the regular season, did you start to feel like you were a team of destiny?

Iginla: In the Vancouver series we didn't have time to think. It was a back-and-forth series. After we won the first series, we had to face Detroit and we knew we just had to keep on plugging. We won that first game after being outplayed hugely. "Kipper" was unbelievable which was great because the rest of us were flat-footed. We got out-shot something like 20-2 in the first period of the opening game after playing Game 7 of the first round just a few nights earlier. When we won Game 1 against Detroit, we really started to believe in ourselves. Our goaltending was so good and we had watched other teams have other runs with great goaltending, so we started to believe we could do the same thing. Detroit was a top team so we figured if we could beat them, we could beat anybody.

THN: When you look back on the final and replay it in your mind, is there a single shift or a play in Game 6 that may have altered the outcome of the series?

Iginla: It was the possible goal by Martin Gelinas. I was on the bench and I honestly thought it may have gone in, but the play just went on so quickly. Maybe I could have banged my stick and caused a bit of a delay to get Darryl (Sutter) to check it. Then they scored in overtime in Game 6 and I was on the ice, so I think about that one, too.

THN: Baseball needed an injection of offense of historic proportions -- the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase ­- to help recapture fans. What will it take for the NHL to attract people back to the game after the lockout?

Iginla: I think the Shanahan Summit had a lot of good points.

THN: Such as?

Iginla: I like the idea of the shootout. I remember watching the Battle of Alberta on TV when I was a kid and the Flames and Oilers were 1-2 in the standings. When they played to a tie, it gave you nothing to talk about at school. If your team won, you would talk about the win. If your team lost, you would talk about what went wrong. Ties just don't do it for me. I think the shootout would be great for the game.

THN: What other changes would you propose?

Iginla: I think the goalie pads are too big. You want to make sure they are big enough so that goalies don't get injured, but at the same time I like watching some of the classic games on TV when the goalie pads were smaller and there was a lot more movement. You could see the net and goalies had to move more. They are an exciting part of the game. (Martin) Brodeur doesn't have big pads and he moves and makes some pretty exciting saves. I don't think it's a selfish thing because I want to score more goals; I think it would be great for the game. Everybody would score more goals and you would still have comparatively great goaltending. I think any new rules on pads
should be strictly enforced so there is no cheating.

THN: What do you think about wider blue lines?

Iginla: I haven't really put a lot of thought into that one, but the one I have thought about is the tag-up offside. I like that because it keeps the play moving.

THN: Would you like to see the center red line removed to allow two-line passes?

Iginla: I think we should. I think it will be a different game than overseas because of the smaller ice surface. I think it would create more chances and more excitement and it would change the trap for at least a minute.

THN: What about bigger nets?

Iginla: No, I don't like bigger nets. I think the net is big enough, there are just so many times you come in off the wing and you shoot and a lot of times there's nothing to look at. So many times you just nick the outside of the pad or the outside of the blocker and those would be goals if the equipment were smaller. I think it was exciting in the old days to see a guy rip a shot and catch the far corner.

THN: It sounds as though you are in favor of some radical changes.

Iginla: Yeah, I am. If you look at other sports ­- basketball comes to mind with the 3-point line and look at how good that has been for that sport. Games evolve and I think it's time for us to try to take some bold steps forward. Fans have indicated for the past 10 or so years they have been less than happy with the product. Even as a player, I think hockey is a great game; I love the intensity and the skill, but I think there could be some improvements and hopefully we could get back to playing a little bit more thrilling hockey.

THN: What role do you see yourself playing in helping grow the game?

Iginla: That's a hard one. I think everybody in the game has to be involved. It's tough to make some of the changes that have been proposed, but we have to be bold. Once you get the right changes in, the skill level in hockey is great and I think we'll see exciting hockey. If we change the on-ice product, I think it will take care of itself. The game has been growing, but it would grow at an even quicker rate and hopefully excite fans even more.

THN: How do you feel about your ethnicity being discussed when people talk about your impact on the game?

Iginla: I feel good about it. I know what it meant to me when I was younger. It meant a lot for me to see other black players in the NHL and think it is possible for me to play in the league. I think if kids want to be NHL players, no matter what their background is, they should have that opportunity.

THN: Do you strive to be a role model for black children?

Iginla: Yeah, I'm proud to be a black NHL player. I have had parents of children who are minorities tell me their kids really look up to me and that makes me proud. It's an honor. I had my picture taken with Grant Fuhr in our baseball uniforms when I was nine and it meant so much for me. Kids would say to me there are no black players in the NHL and I would say, "Are you kidding me? Look at Grant Fuhr winning those Stanley Cups." I want kids, no matter what their nationality or background, to dream big and think it's possible. Don't think about race, just go out and follow their dream.

THN: When you looked at the roster for Team Canada at the World Cup, did it cross your mind that you could go undefeated in the tournament?

Iginla: It was pretty cool to look at the lineup and see the talent all the way through the lines. I think we believed we could do it, but there's a difference between believing you can do it and actually going out and proving it.

THN: Did you and Team Canada teammate Vincent Lecavalier discuss your fight in the Stanley Cup final?

Iginla: Yeah, we talked about it a little bit. We didn't go into great detail about it. We talked a lot about the final, too. It was interesting to hear the point of view from Vinny, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis to find out how tired they were, too. And about how tough it was for them.

THN: Who won the fight between you and Vinny?

Iginla: (Laughs) I'd say it was a draw.

THN: A lot has been made about today's game being more about clutch and grab than speed and skill. Would it have been bad for the game to have a team like the Flames beat a skilled team like the Lightning in the final in terms of how it might have influenced other teams to play in the future?

Iginla: I do think it would be great if they shut down obstruction and call it tighter, but I think our team was exciting. We were as skilled as other teams, but we had exciting goaltending and we were a team that loved to dish out big hits. I think we shut teams down by skating well. I don't think we fit the clutch-and-grab mold. We shut other teams down by hitting. We have punishing defensemen in Rhett Warrener, Denis Gauthier and Robyn Regehr who don't clutch and grab.

THN: Who is the one player you most hate playing against and why?

Iginla: Hmmm, there's a number of them. Usually those players take pride in being that player, so I'd hate to say who. One of the toughest guys to play against is Adam Foote. He's not so much dirty as he competes hard and he's strong. He'd be one of them. Chris Pronger is very tough.

THN: You are one of the most affable players in the game, but everybody gets upset now and then. What gets your blood boiling?

Iginla: I should handle bad drivers better.

THN: You're breaking in 2-on-1 and you can choose any player in NHL history to be with you; who do you pick?

Iginla: Do I have the puck?

THN: First one you have the puck; second one you don't have the puck.

Iginla: If I have the puck and I'm on the right wing, I'd be pretty excited to be passing to Brett Hull. If I don't have the puck, I've had a good chemistry with Craig Conroy over the years, but Joe Sakic is awesome, too. One of those two guys.

THN: Darryl Sutter has a very dry sense of humor. Has he ever said anything that cracked you up on the bench?

Iginla: I've got to be careful here. He's definitely got a sense of humor, but you don't want to be on the other end of it if he's upset with you. One time we were in Montreal and Craig Conroy and I had an absolutely terrible game. We'd had a meeting the night before discussing ways we could be better and turn things around, and then we go out and have a horrible game. It was near the end of the game and we were sitting on the bench, and Darryl says, "Hey, you two, did you bring your dresses tonight?" He didn't say who he was talking to, but we knew it was us. Then he says, "You should have, you're playing like a couple of women." He's got a lot of those one-liners.

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