Thursday, December 29, 2022

NHL99: Jarome Iginla, the last of the NHL’s great power forwards

I want you to stop for a moment and picture the most iconic Jarome Iginla moment. Not your personal favorite, or even the most important, but the one that best represents who he was to you. If a brand new hockey fan showed up and wanted to know why everyone – not just Flames fans, but everyone -- seems to love this Iginla guy so much and you had time to show them one clip, which one would it be?

You’d have a ton of choices. You  could show them a goal; counting the playoffs, you’d have over 650 to choose from. You might go with a milestone moment, like his 500th goal or 1,000th point, or when he became the Flames’ all-time leading scorer. His epic overtime shift in the 2004 final would have to be way up there on the list. You might choose one of his Team Canada highlights, like his laser beam one-timer late in the 2002 gold medal game, or the time that he and everyone else heard the infamous IGGY. You might even go off the board and choose the time he led the Flames in paying respect to Trevor Linden after his long-time rival’s final game, the sort of pure-class gesture we don’t see often in sports these days.

Any of those would be great choices. But I’m guessing they may not be what came to mind first. Instead, there’s a good chance you thought of this:

That's Iginla and Tampa’s Vincent Lecavalier dropping the gloves in early in Game 3 of the 2004 Stanley Cup final. Iginla is Calgary’s biggest star and their captain; Lecavalier is the franchise player the Lightning have been building around. A fight between two superstars, in a crucial playoff game, just isn’t supposed to happen. But it does, because this is a battle for a championship and neither player is willing to give an inch.

You don’t have to like fighting in hockey or even understand it to get what’s happening here. There’s nothing dirty, and it’s not some staged production between two guys with nothing better to do. It’s just two stars on a collision course, staring each other down and saying “I’m not going anywhere and I know you’re not either, so what do you want to do about it?”

Iginla wins the fight, of course, because he almost always did. He didn’t fight often, maybe a handful of times a year, because he didn’t have to. But if it needed to be done, he was there. That was what made Iginla such a special player – he could do just about anything that his team needed him to do. A goal? Of course. A dominating shift? Yes. Win the crucial battles in his own zone? Often. A crushing open ice hit to flip the momentum? More than a few. And yes, if somebody needed to step up and trade punches, putting themselves at risk just to make it clear that this team wasn’t backing down from anyone, Iginla was willing and able to do that too.

Jarome Iginla kicked ass. Sometimes, literally. And there’s a very good chance that we’ll never see a player quite like him ever again.

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