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A Man in Full A golden performance in the Olympics put a crowning touch on Jarome Iginla's breakthrough season

March 11, 2002
March 11, 2002

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March 11, 2002

Pro Basketball

A Man in Full A golden performance in the Olympics put a crowning touch on Jarome Iginla's breakthrough season

The cooks in the open kitchen at Earl's Tin Palace in Calgary
gave Jarome Iginla a standing ovation when he wandered in for
lunch last Friday, which was appropriate considering that 1)
Iginla scored two goals in the Olympic gold medal game, 2) he
led the NHL in scoring with 35 goals and 66 points at the time,
and 3) cooks don't have chairs. Suddenly, life is one big
smorgasbord for Iginla, a 24-year-old right wing who, as Team
Canada defenseman Rob Blake noted after the Games, no longer
belongs just to the Calgary Flames or even to Canada but to
hockey.

This is an article from the March 11, 2002 issue

As Iginla picked at his blackened chicken, he was interrupted
with "Congratulations" and "We're proud, man" and "Thanks for
bringing it home" and requests for autographs. Twelve days
earlier he was having dinner with his extended family in a
restaurant near Salt Lake City when a waitress told him that the
four people at the table across the way were from Calgary.
Iginla excused himself and walked over to greet strangers named
Ross Purves, Andrew Supersad, Rick Tatla and Jeff Williams,
21-year-olds who had driven to Utah together, painted I AM
CANADIAN on their stomachs and bought tickets from a scalper to
see Canada tie the Czech Republic in a round-robin game. The
conversation was "a 10-minute jam session," as Purves called it,
about how cool it was to be on a team with Mario Lemieux and how
the Calgary guys had been sleeping in their Ford Taurus in the
Comfort Inn parking lot because they couldn't get a hotel room.
Iginla took his leave. Later he returned to the table,
presumably to say goodbye. "I booked you guys in the Marriott
Courtyard, where my family's staying," said Iginla. "Hope you
don't mind." Iginla jotted directions to the hotel on a napkin.
The room cost $250, which the four guys later discovered had
already been paid for.

There are two ways to view this story of generosity. In Calgary
it was portrayed as another example of the sterling character of
a player who donates $1,000 for each goal to a children's
charity and works for the local juvenile diabetes chapter. To
Iginla this was a quid pro quo, a favor returned for the
maniacal support that four guys not much younger than he had
given Team Canada.

It was 11 o'clock on the eve of the gold medal game against the
U.S. Iginla, in bed at the Olympic Village, telephoned his
mother, Susan Schuchard, to make sure that all the arrangements
had been made for the next day. Then he made a request: "Say a
prayer for me."

As she went to sleep, Schuchard repeated in her head
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, a Buddhist chant that she says encompasses
the laws of the universe and creates a layer of protection,
summoning all that is positive.

Canada's crazy quilt of cultures is embodied in the chiseled
6'1", 208 pounds of Iginla. Jarome is a Christian like his
father, Elvis, a lawyer who emigrated from Nigeria to Canada at
18. His mother, who divorced Elvis before Jarome's second
birthday, is a Buddhist and a native of Medford, Ore., who in
the 1960s moved with her parents to the Edmonton suburb of St.
Albert. Black. White. Canadian. Nigerian. American. Christian.
Buddhist. When scouts say Iginla has it all, they mean size, an
industrial-strength shot and the ability to find or create open
ice, but that only describes what Iginla does, not who he is.
His skin is the lush tone of mocha java with a generous pouring
of milk, and Iginla warmly accepts being called a black hockey
player.

Iginla also acknowledges that he bears that most common of human
burdens: self-doubt. When executive director Wayne Gretzky
extended a belated invitation to Iginla to attend Team Canada's
orientation camp, by leaving a message with Iginla's fiancee,
Kara Kirkland, Iginla assumed Flames teammate Marc Savard was
pulling a practical joke. When Iginla arrived in Salt Lake
buoyed by a breakthrough year, he still felt he didn't belong.
In Canada's 5-2 opening loss to Sweden, Iginla deferred to
linemates Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan.

The Olympics changed for him the next day at practice. On the
dressing room grease board Iginla saw that coach Pat Quinn had
rearranged the lines. Joe Sakic was being dropped off a unit
with Lemieux and Paul Kariya to play with Iginla and 21-year-old
Simon Gagne. "Joe's like, 'Oh, it's going to be fun playing with
you young guys,'" Iginla says. "A part of me was saying, He must
be thinking, Why me? Going from Mario to us. But even if he felt
it was a demotion, he never acted as if it was. That meant a
lot."

Iginla remained tentative throughout the round-robin but in a
furious quarterfinal against Finland, Iginla found his game. He
was so steady that Quinn used him in the final minute of a
one-goal match, as profound an expression of trust as a coach
can offer. Then in the gold medal game his line exploded for
eight points. Iginla scored Canada's second goal in the first
period and got its fourth with four minutes left in a 5-2 win.

He returned to the NHL last week as the same man but a different
player. Iginla seemed more assertive to Flames coach Greg
Gilbert; a sprinkling of pride had been added to his humility.
Its effect was dazzling. "People say confidence is overstated,
but I don't think so," says Iginla. "Going from the first
Olympic game, in which I barely could shoot, to the gold medal
game, it was obvious."

In his first three games back with the Flames, Iginla had four
points, including two assists in a 3-2 win over the St. Louis
Blues last Thursday. Says Blues coach Joel Quenneville, "Right
now he might be the best forward in the league."

There are no guarantees that the smorgasbord won't run out of
food. The Flames are in danger of missing the playoffs for the
sixth straight year, the scoring title could slip away, and
there might be some bruised feelings after Iginla, who will be a
restricted free agent next summer, arm-wrestles Calgary for a
new contract.

But this is a man with bills to pay. Besides housing the Calgary
guys, he's putting his mother through school. Schuchard juggled
jobs to make a comfortable life for her only child, and now it's
his turn to reciprocate. At 44, with Iginla's moral and
financial support, she's studying secondary education at the
University of Alberta, preparing to become a drama teacher.
This, truly, is class.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL WIPPERTCOLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO FlammableIginla started slowly in the Olympics but caught fire against Finland and then had two goals in the gold medal match.