Iginla busted out at world juniors
WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency
|Flames captain Jarome Iginla in action against the Canucks at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alta., Nov. 1, 2011. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)
CALGARY - On Thursday night, Calgary Flames captain Jarome Iginla will hit the ice at TD Garden in Boston with an opportunity to join the NHL's prestigious 500-goal club.
It would be a fitting location for the milestone marker, considering it was in the same rink that Iginla first served notice he'd become a star.
"My recollection is he was like a man among boys," said former Flames GM Al Coates of the 1996 World Junior Hockey Championship in Boston. "You could see the size and strength and the ability to fend not just one defender, but sometimes two.
"He was clearly a dominant player in the games."
Coates, who is the executive director of this year's world junior tournament in Calgary and Edmonton, was keeping close tabs on Team Canada's power forward in Massachusetts.
Just six days before the opening faceoff at the annual holiday showcase, the Flames had shipped star centre Joe Nieuwendyk -- then embroiled in a contract dispute with the club -- to the Dallas Stars in exchange for forward Corey Millen and a kid named Iginla who'd been scoring in bunches for the Western Hockey League's Kamloops Blazers.
It wasn't long before that kid introduced himself on the international stage.
The 18-year-old Iginla had five goals and seven assists in a half-dozen games at the world juniors in Boston, leading Canada to a fourth consecutive gold-medal celebration and sparking optimism for fans in Calgary still lamenting the loss of one of the best two-way forwards in the game.
"It was a controversial trade, to say the least, when you're trading an established NHL star and a great person like Joe Nieuwendyk for -- in the public eye -- a relatively unknown player," Coates said. "What sticks out for me is how confident that I was and how good I felt after watching Jarome play. Of course, he was the MVP of the tournament. We believed that, as a staff, but it was good to see it up-front and first-hand.
"I was certainly happy with what we were able to witness."
It was no secret the Flames were seeking a top-flight prospect -- "The only thing that I had told everybody in relation to that transaction was that long after Joe Nieuwendyk is retired, we're still going to watch the player that we get or there won't be a deal," Coates recalled -- and the Stars finally made an offer Coates couldn't refuse.
After lighting it up at the world juniors, Iginla returned to Kamloops and racked up an incredible 63 goals in 63 games with the Blazers.
When his WHL squad was eliminated in the league final, the 18-year-old signed a contract with the Flames and made his NHL debut in a playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks, earning an assist in his first game and scoring a goal in his next.
At that point, the Flames knew Iginla would be a key contributor for years to come.
But a guy who could score 500 times at hockey's highest level?
"No," Coates admitted. "Did we believe he was going to be a top-line player? Yes, but 500 goals is an amazing milestone in the National Hockey League. And he's going to score a lot more goals after this one comes and goes."
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