“Iggy! Iggy!” might just be the most famous shout in Canadian hockey history. The words came from Sidney Crosby in overtime of the gold medal game of the 2010 Olympics.
He was wide open, and Jarome Iginla had the puck along the boards in the USA corner. Iginla fired a quick pass to the screaming Crosby, and without a blink the puck was in the net. The golden goal gave Canada one of its most memorable wins in its long and distinguished history.
Eight years later, Iginla, now 41 years old, has officially retired from the game he played for more than two decades. He didn’t play at all in 2017/18, so the announcement comes as no surprise, but it now is just a matter of time before the Hockey Hall of Fame calls his name.
That 2010 overtime assist book-ended a remarkable Olympic career for Iginla playing for Canada (three straight, 2002-2010), one that began in 2002 when the 24-year-old scored twice and added an assist in the gold medal game, also against the U.S., to give Canada a 5-2 win, its first Olympic gold in 50 years.
Iginla has the longest name in NHL history. In its entirety it is Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tij Junior Elvis Iginla. He had a spectacular junior career with the Kamloops Blazers, winning the Memorial Cup in 1994 and 1995 and gold with Canada’s World Junior team in 1996 (when he was the leading scorer in the tournament and was named Best Forward by the IIHF Directorate).
He was drafted 11th overall by Dallas in 1995, but later that year he was traded to the Calgary Flames in a deal that brought Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas, and it was in Calgary that “Iggy” established himself as one of the game’s great young stars.
In his rookie season, 1996/97, he scored 21 goals, but the Flames failed to make the playoffs. He joined Canada’s World Championship team and helped it win gold in Finland.
After a bit of an off-season as a sophomore, Iginla improved his goalscoring in each of the next four years, going from 28 to 29 and 31 to 52. That last total came during his breakout season of 2001/02. After being named to the Olympic team by executive director Wayne Gretzky, Iginla rose to 99’s challenge when Gretzky declared that the young players had to contribute to the team’s success. Iginla did just that, scoring two crucial goals and adding an assist in the decisive game. He went on to win the Rocket Richard Trophy, the Art Ross Trophy, and the Lester B. Pearson Trophy. Iginla was now the greatest young player in the NHL.
Like many stars from that 2002 Olympic team, Iginla was also part of Canada’s successful 2004 World Cup team. He had now played four tournaments wearing Team Canada’s sweater, and had won each event with distinction. In 2003/04, he was named captain at the start of the year and went on to score 41 goals to win the Rocket Richard Trophy for a second time (sharing it this time with Rick Nash and Ilya Kovalchuk). He also took the Flames to their first and only Stanley Cup finals during his career, but the team came up just short, losing to Tampa Bay in seven games.
In all, Iginla played 18 years in Calgary before moving around the league as a much-needed veteran who could contribute offensively. He played for Pittsburgh, Boston, Colorado, and Los Angeles, but he couldn’t take that final step to win the Cup. Along the way he scored his 500th career goal and 1,000th career point.
Iginla was a power forward. Big and strong, he had a great shot and determination but he could stick up for his teammates when the moment called for tough play. Off ice, he wore a smile with almost perplexing consistency and was a popular player among teammates and fans wherever he went.
Although he had hoped to play last year, the NHL has gotten progressively younger in recent times such that no team needed a veteran any longer. In the end, though, his legacy is a great one. Iginla brought a winning attitude to every dressing room he entered, and he retires as one of the game’s greats.