- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2004

TAMPA, Fla. — Jarome Iginla goes against the grain.

Iginla is a big-time scorer who isn’t afraid to drop the gloves.

He is one of only two Canadians among the handful of players who have scored at least 50 goals in any of the last seven seasons.

He grew up in Edmonton but always has skated for that city’s provincial archrival, Calgary.

And in a league almost as white as its ice, Iginla is the NHL’s first black scoring star and first black captain.

Iginla has powered his Calgary Flames into the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons and to a 1-0 lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals, which resume here tonight.

“Jarome has been one of the best players in the league the last two or three years,” Flames coach Darryl Sutter said. “Now he’s having team success, so it becomes more magnified.

“Jarome’s a power guy. He plays a lot of minutes. He plays the power play. He kills penalties. He plays against big players. He plays against skilled players. He plays the last minute of a period. He plays the first minute of a period. You’re hard-pressed to find a better right winger.”

Iginla attained stardom by scoring 52 goals for the Flames in 2001-02, and Sutter said the 26-year-old is even better this year.

“The biggest reason that Jarome has taken a step forward this year is because he has assumed the leadership of the team,” Sutter said. “Before, he was the face of the team, and it was the wrong sort of pressure: If Jarome doesn’t score, we can’t win. It doesn’t work, and it’s unfair to the player. It has to be about the team. Jarome wanted to be the captain. There are a lot of captains who wear the ‘C,’ but it doesn’t make them the leader of the team. Jarome is the leader of this team.”

And this leader will stand up for his teammates on the ice.

At 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds, Iginla can take care of himself and continually must try to balance finesse with physicality. Iginla’s career-high 84 penalty minutes this year were nearly twice the average of the other seven players to score at least 35 goals.

“I don’t really drop the gloves too often, but it’s an intense sport,” Iginla said. “It’s a battle out there, and it’s fun to compete. Fighting is part of the game. I don’t really look for fights, but I don’t try to avoid them.

“Our team style is, we try to be aggressive. We try to be intense. We enjoy trying to be in your face and competing, and the result is that sometimes fights do happen.”

Flames left wing Chris Simon, who has played with such top players as Mark Messier, Dale Hunter and Joe Sakic, said Iginla is “a great player and an even better person.”

Iginla, who tied for the league lead with 41 goals this season, is one of three finalists for the Hart (MVP) Trophy for the second time in three years. He’s also one of the favorites for the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) by virtue of his 18 points and a postseason-best 11 goals, which include the short-handed score that won Game1 of the finals for the Flames.

And Iginla also understands the positive effect his race can have on children who dream of being in his skates some day. Like everyone else in Edmonton in the 1980s, Iginla loved Oilers superstars Wayne Gretzky and Messier, but he also paid close attention to a special handful of players.

“I was the only black player on my teams growing up, and I dreamt like everybody else of being in the NHL,” Iginla said. “But other kids — not trying to be mean — would say, ‘There really aren’t any black players in the NHL; what are the chances?’ It was nice to be able to say, ‘Look at Grant Fuhr winning those five Stanley Cups. Look at Claude Vilgrain scoring 30 goals. Look at Tony McKegney scoring 40.’

“They made me feel that it was possible. It’s a neat feeling to think that maybe there are some young black kids in the same situation.”

Iginla also tries to inspire by more direct means.

“I have a hockey school and the young kids, once they get involved, they just love the game, the speed, the equipment, being able to go and crash around,” he said. “If there’s any way to help promote the game, I’d love to do that.”

Actually, that’s what Iginla does every day just by being himself.

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