'Rome burning up

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

The leader of the Calgary Flames hit a milestone this summer. Jarome Iginla turned 30.

The captain who leads by example with the hunger to fight along the boards, and occasionally scrap another team's heavyweight, doesn't feel old, though.

"I guess it feels like I'm in my prime," he said with a wide grin as he walked out of the Pengrowth Saddledome recently. "You know, when you're younger, you always think you're just building up to your prime.

BUILDING AND BUILDING

"I'm always going to keep trying to get better."

It's hard to imagine Iginla getting much better.

If it wasn't for a knee injury that limited him to 70 games last season, Iginla would easily have eclipsed his personal best for points. He finished with 39 goals and 94 points, just two shy of his career-high total of 96, which won him an Art Ross Trophy to pair with his Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy for the 52-goal campaign in 2002.

The 1.34 points per game average was third only to Sidney Crosby (1.52) and Joe Thornton (1.39) in 2006-07.

Some would argue goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff is the team's most important player, but it's hard to imagine the Flames without Iginla.

His gritty play in the 2004 NHL playoffs made him a household name across the hockey world, put Calgary back on the NHL map and led to the high expectations the city has now levied on the franchise every season since.

If you want proof that Iginla makes every player around him better, just ask close friend Craig Conroy.

After languishing in Los Angeles for much of last season, Conroy was reunited with Iginla -- his linemate during his most productive years in a first go-round in Calgary -- and the result was 21 points in 28 games.

"Playing with Jarome is easy," said Conroy. "He does everything so well."

Everyone would love to play with the captain, and many will have that opportunity under new head coach Mike Keenan, who gives the bulk of the ice time to his best players on any given night.

Alex Tanguay had his first taste of occasionally winging it with Jarome last year.

"He's such a gifted athlete. He's got great scoring ability, but the thing that's best about him is his physical attributes," Tanguay said. "He's such a great skater and he's so strong on the puck."

Tanguay has played alongside both Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, two of the most dominant names in the game over the past decade, and rates Iginla in the same category.

"I think he's right up there," said Tanguay. "He's an elite athlete and it's certainly fun to play with him."

Despite many cracks to the contrary from former teammate Jamie McLennan, Iginla is seemingly untouched by age.

His conditioning coming into camp this year caught Keenan's eye.

"He's as well trained as any athlete I've had," Keenan said. "He's in the top three of all the athletes I've ever had in the league -- and that would include (Chris) Chelios and (Ed) Belfour. He's right with them with the same numbers.

"He's done his work off the ice."

Iginla has done his work on the ice, too, and hopes to continue to play another decade or so. Maybe as long as Chelios. Lucky for the Flames, they've got him locked up for at least another six seasons.

"I've really enjoyed the first 10-11 years. I'm very thankful for that," Iginla said. "I hope I'm only halfway through, and hope my most productive years are starting now and going forward."

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JAROME IGINLA

Age: 30

Born: July 1, 1977 in Edmonton

Position: Right wing

Shoots: right

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 204 pounds.

Experience: 11th season in Calgary and NHL

Drafted: 1st round, 11th overall by Dallas in 1995

Acquired: From Dallas on Dec. 19, '95 with Corey Millen for Joe Nieuwendyk

NHL numbers: 324 goals, 340 assists for 664 points in 778 regular-season games; 21 goals, 15 assists for 36 points in 41 playoff contests

Awards: Art Ross Trophy (2002), Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy (2002 and 2004), Lester B. Pearson Award (2002), King Clancy Memorial Award (2004)


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