SUN Hockey Pool

Iggy cemented as scorer

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

A handful of weeks away from becoming the Flames all-time leading goal scorer, Jarome Iginla says it wasn't all that long ago he questioned whether he belonged.

Not just amongst the league's elite, but as an NHL goal scorer of any note.

"My second year, I hurt my hand and was wondering if I could ever be a scorer in the NHL," admitted the habitually humble Flames captain yesterday, four days after setting a new club mark with his seventh consecutive 30-goal campaign.

"I remember having a long talk with (former Flames teammate) Bill Lindsay about it because he scored tons of goals in junior but was turned into a checker."

That second season the former junior sniper saw his production drop from 21 goals as a rookie to a career-low 13.

His mindset then was to avoid the same sort of fate that saw Lindsay score no more than a dozen times in any season.

Easing his mind somewhat, Iginla followed up with 28- and 29-goal efforts, sparking new fears he'd never reach magic No. 30.

"I remember the first time I hit 30 -- it was in Chicago and I took a pass from Savvy (Marc Savard,)" smiled Iginla of his fifth-season success.

"It was a relief because I was so close the previous two years -- you wonder if you're ever going to get over that mark."

Now, you wonder if he'll ever finish under it.

Springboarding to superstardom the following year when he scored 52 times, won the scoring title, was nominated for the Hart and won gold with the Olympic team, Iginla endures as one of the game's greatest athletes and assets.

It's official: He's no Bill Lindsay. But that didn't stop notorious joker Mike Keenan from bringing his captain back down to earth with a good-natured jab yesterday.

"Iggy actually is playing on a checking line right now, he just doesn't know it," smiled Keenan, prompting a burst of laughter from the typically dour coach and all those within earshot, before returning to a more serious tone.

"Even if he was in a checking role, he'd be a checker that could score. A lot of scorers in junior can't do it in the NHL because the goaltenders are better and the game is faster.

"It depends on the skill set of the group and what its needs are to help make the group better overall."

Over the years, the typically thin Flames needed him to score, giving him every opportunity to do so.

Indeed, as his presence in the last minute of one-goal wins indicates, Iginla does it all now -- including carrying the club on his back in some people's eyes. Not Keenan's, or Iginla's however.

"It's not one player and Iggy would be the first to acknowledge it," said Keenan, overseeing a team with just one regulation loss in 17 outings.

"He's performing at a very high level and it has helped, but his success is predicated on the team's success.

"He has that respect in the locker-room. Obviously, I've coached some great players -- the best players in the game over the last two decades -- and they feel the same way."

Iginla is also quick to point out the vast number of roles his teammates have played in the team's recent success, allowing him to join Theo Fleury and Joe Nieuwendyk as the club's only seven-time 30-goal scorers (not consecutively).

With 32 this year, he's just nine away from eclipsing Fleury's club mark of 364.

"If I wasn't on a team that was rebuilding, maybe I never would have got the chance to be a goal scorer," said Iginla.

"Now, I'm in a very fortunate position to play here with the playmakers we have here like Tangs (Alex Tanguay), Juice (Kristian Huselius), (Craig) Conroy and Lanks (Daymond Langkow)."

Checkers they are not.

Seven million dollars and 356 goals say you can sleep a little easier now Jarome.


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