To the Flames, it is known simply as the Shift. It lasted
precisely one overtime minute--team officials timed it the next
morning--but in the retelling after Game 5 of the Stanley Cup
finals, it was said to have been 90 seconds or a Bunyanesque two
minutes, harmless exaggerations that are the stuff of legends and
speak to Calgary right wing Jarome Iginla's rightful place as
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's NHL Player of the Year.
During the Shift, Iginla lost his helmet in a collision, nearly
created a goal in the Lightning end with a backhand pass,
backchecked like a man whirring at 78 rpm in a 33 1/3 universe
and then hurtled back down the ice for an industrial-strength
slap shot that goalie Nikolai Khabibulin could not control. The
puck caromed to Flames forward Oleg Saprykin, who rammed in the
winner at 14:40 of overtime in the last game that underdog
Calgary would win from Tampa Bay.
Craig Conroy, Iginla's center, called it the "greatest shift I've
ever seen." He then added, "Seriously, how can someone be out
there two minutes and still have that kind of juice? Most guys
run out of energy, and this guy was building energy."
The Lightning's estimable right wing Martin St. Louis, the
runner-up for SI's honor, became the eighth NHL player to
complete the single-season hat trick of winning the Stanley Cup,
the Hart Trophy as league MVP and the Art Ross Trophy as the
leading scorer, but his copious skills were aided by the superb
Tampa Bay centers, Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards and
Vincent Lecavalier. As Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said last week,
"Iginla didn't have much help, did he?"
Indeed. After starting the season with only four goals through
Dec. 1, the 6'1" 208-pound Iginla broke loose and wound up tied
for the NHL lead with 41. He did it while playing alongside a
center who had an eight-goal season (Conroy) and manning the half
boards on a power play that often looked as if it had been drawn
up on a cocktail napkin. Iginla then led playoff goal scorers
with 13, carrying the Flames and Canada's hopes for a Cup--the
weight light on his broad back until the Shift seemed to leave
him utterly spent.
Though Iginla, who'll turn 27 on July 1, fell just short of the
Stanley Cup, he nonetheless added to his growing status as the
NHL's poster child. His community involvement, his humility and
his sweet nature off the ice (in contrast to his bug-eyed mean
streak on it) have endeared him to his city. After Game 3 of the
finals he stopped outside the Saddledome and signed at least 200
autographs. As they say in Calgary, "That's Iggy."
Will Jarome Iginla become SI's Sportsman of the Year for 2004? To
cast your vote, and to get more NHL Player of the Year coverage,
go to si.com/hockey.