Sunday, December 16, 2001
By JEAN LEFEBVRE -- Calgary Sun
ST. LOUIS -- This time, Jarome Iginla knew it couldn't possibly be a prank.
The Calgary Flames right winger knew it was for real because he got the great news from the Great One himself yesterday morning in St. Louis -- pack your bags, kid, you're going to Salt Lake City.
Iginla, the NHL's top scorer with 24 goals and 42 points prior to last night's game, was officially named to the Canadian Olympic team as the much-anticipated roster announcement was made at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Team Canada's executive director personally broke the news to the 24-year-old from St. Albert.
"It was Wayne Gretzky," Iginla stammered. "I don't even know what I said."
What mattered, of course, was Gretzky's end of the conversation as No. 99 confirmed what had become obvious in recent weeks -- Iginla was more than worthy of wearing the red maple leaf on his chest.
The news wasn't all positive for the Flames as Derek Morris was left off the Canadian roster.
Iginla started the year as a longshot for Olympic duty. He wasn't invited to September's camp at Father David Bauer Arena and participated only after a shoulder injury put Philadelphia's Simon Gagne out of commission.
Even back then he wasn't sure the tardy summons was legit.
"My first thought," said Iginla, "was I was really excited. I thought: 'That's awesome.' Then I thought: `Ah, wait a minute here. It could be a joke. How embarrassing would it be to show up and not really be invited?' "
Fret not, Jarome, they want you.
They really, really want you.
While it was obvious he was a lock -- Gretzky last month called him "the best forward right now in the NHL" and last week added that excluding the league's top scorer "would be ludicrous" -- Iginla admitted to battling butterflies yesterday morning before getting the big call.
"Last night was the game (in Dallas) and afterwards I was pretty tired," he said. "We got in (to St. Louis) and I was able to sleep but when I woke up (yesterday) morning, I realized the announcement was going to be made either way. It felt like Christmas morning."
Guess what? The present he most wanted was under the tree.
The list of Calgary players heading to Salt Lake City -- the Olympic Flames, if you will -- picked up its first member Thursday as netminder Roman Turek was confirmed as a member of the Czech Republic team.
There was no justification, though, for overlooking Iginla.
After a solid 31-goal, 71-point campaign last season, Iginla has blossomed into one of the game's premier players.
The orientation camp, says Iginla, was a springboard to the stellar first half that in turn has secured him an Olympic roster spot.
"I think it helped me," he said. "Just to be able to skate with those guys and compete alongside them -- (Mario) Lemieux and (Steve) Yzerman and (Paul) Kariya ... Just shooting on Canada's best goalies. It was great just to see where the next level is at and I want to try and get there. It was really good for my confidence and my mental approach.
"A big part of it is the success of the team this year," he suggested. "It's helped everybody in our room. It gives everybody a little more jump in their step and I think everybody has more confidence."
With Iginla's inclusion, perhaps Canadian team members should start picking out the best spot to store their gold medals. Both of his previous international hockey assignments -- the 1996 world junior championships in Boston, where Iginla was the leading scorer, and the 1997 world championships in Finland -- ended with the Canucks standing on top of the podium.
2002 Games Men's Hockey Coverage