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Iginla Combines Power and the Glorious

April 21, 2006|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

CALGARY, Canada — In the time it takes to say his name, Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla will find a way to beat you.

Or beat you up.

Born in Edmonton to a Canadian mother and Nigerian father, the Calgary Flames' forward has carved out a balance between raw strength and refined skill, between landing well-placed jabs on the ice and reaching out to perform the charitable deeds that have won him the game's top sportsmanship and humanitarian awards.

The 6-foot-1, 208-pound right wing scored 13 goals and 22 points in the Flames' 2004 run to the Stanley Cup finals, but former linemate Craig Conroy praised the contributions he made in the locker room.

Conroy recalled that the Flames were winning Game 7 of their first-round series against Vancouver but lost their lead in the closing seconds. Players were disheartened, but not for long.

"Just the way he calmed everything down in the [locker] room, and said, 'Hey, we've got a period, this is what we play for,' " Conroy said. "What I was most impressed with the whole way through is physically, how he can just take over. His conditioning. Some of his shifts, I played on a line with him and he'd be out there two minutes and he'd look as fresh the last five seconds as he did the first five seconds.

"Just to battle through, and do all those things. You know he's going to be covered, and the way he finds space and scores goals is incredible."

Nor did he limit his battles to the usual jostling around the net.

"Every round, he fought," Conroy said in a tone of awe. "He never backed down."

Iginla is prepared to do it all again, starting tonight when the Flames open their first-round playoff series against the Mighty Ducks at the Pengrowth Saddledome. Because of the lockout that wiped out last season, the Flames had an extra year to brood on their seven-game loss to Tampa Bay in the finals. It doesn't sit any better with them now than it did then.

"We're hungry. We were hungry then, but when you get that close and have to hear the other team cheering and celebrating in their rink and we knew it could have been us, it's still in our minds," Iginla said earlier this week.

"We just can't wait to be back to this time of year. All year it's fun, but this is more fun. It's more enjoyable and the intensity is higher. There's no low emotions. Around our room for the last week or so, you could just feel it. Really, the last 10 games, you could feel our fans, everybody, getting geared up and cheering, and now it's business."

This season wasn't business as usual for Iginla. Conroy, his center during the Flames' playoff journey, had left for Los Angeles as a free agent. And the NHL had adopted a series of rules designed to increase scoring and enhance the flow of games, changes that didn't figure to help the grinding, defense-oriented Flames.

For Iginla, a notoriously slow starter, the transition was tough. He scored only two goals in his first 10 games but built up to a strong finish and scored 10 in the 24 games he played after the Olympics. He led the Flames with 35 goals and 67 points -- down from the league-leading 52 goals he scored in 2001-02 and the 41 that gave him a share of the goal-scoring lead in 2003-04, but by no measure a failure.

"He had a handful of goals, probably, by the first of December, and that's how he's always been," Flame Coach Darryl Sutter said. "Then he had a great stretch up until the Olympic break and when he came back from the Olympics he was really good, and then probably the last couple of games you can see his game starting to come back again."

Although the Flames never went more than three games without a victory and easily won the Northwest Division, Iginla said they had to work to find their stride.

"We're a young group, and we had a little different pressure on us as far as learning to deal with expectations and not surprising teams anymore," he said. "And we had a tough start. We were able to get back into it and win a very tough division....

"I think that we were able to skate and we were able to play hard within the rules and still be physical, and that's how we have success. We know that. We have to be defense-first and physical."

Maybe too physical for the Ducks.

After the Ducks' 4-3 victory on Monday at Anaheim in their regular-season finale, Duck winger Teemu Selanne contended that Iginla had gone too far.

"He's a good, good player but I'm surprised how many dirty things he did tonight," Selanne said. "I have so much respect for that guy, but doing cheap shots like that, he really goes down in my eyes, for sure.

"I think the way he plays when he plays best, he plays hard. He's very physical. He scores goals. That's why I respect the guy. But when you start trying to hurt players out there, and do some dirty things, I can't respect that."

One player's "dirty" hit is another's way of being physical and disrupting an opponent's game. The Flames will hit the small, speedy Ducks at every chance and try to wear them down, and Iginla will be in the middle of it all.

"We're going to try to play to our strength, and I'm sure they're going to try to play to theirs," he said, smiling. "And we're looking forward to it."

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