SUN Hockey Pool

Victory Hart to fathom

STEVE MACFARLANE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

Going to the NHL awards gala is nothing new to Jarome Iginla.

Avoiding the stage would be.

The Calgary Flames captain has claimed a few trophies over the years: The Art Ross and Lester B. Pearson in 2002, the King Clancy Memorial in '04, and the Maurice Richard in '02 and '04.

He was nominated in 2002 for the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player, and has another chance to take that one home for the first time when the NHL hands out its annual awards tomorrow night in Toronto.

Iginla, though, figures there will be no reason to stand -- aside from applauding the winners, which he hopes will include teammate Dion Phaneuf.

"This time, I'm pretty sure I'll be going as a fan and a spectator -- and I'm cool with that," said Iginla, who earned his spot as a finalist by scoring 50 goals and 98 points for the Flames this season.

"I'm just going to go and enjoy it and it won't be as nerve-racking."

At least he knows he won't have to make a speech on stage with the heat of the spotlight shining down on him.

Alex Ovechkin is the odds-on favourite to win the Hart after a league-high 65-goal and 112-point season for the Washington Capitals.

Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin and Iginla round out the trio of nominees.

Unwittingly announcing the winner prematurely when their online store last week posted an Ovechkin t-shirt with the words '2007-08 Hart Trophy winner' written on the bottom, the NHL let the lid off the season's worst-kept secret.

Iginla says he didn't need to see the t-shirt to know what was coming.

On top of his own admission of Ovechkin's dominance before the Flames parted ways at the end of their season, Iginla saw a vote in a sports publication that went heavily in favour of the Russian phenom.

"It was pretty unanimous," said Iginla. "And it's well-deserved.

"I think it was kind of funny when I saw (the t-shirt) on the web page. I pretty much already knew that anyway. He had an amazing season and I could totally see why."

With Phaneuf up for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenceman, there's still one Flame that might have to battle nerves.

"He'll still be a little bit nervous. His isn't a foregone conclusion," said Iginla, who has texted back and forth with the young blueliner this spring.

"I wouldn't go with the same approach I am as far as not preparing a speech. If I was him, I would have one in my back pocket."

Fresh off a Stanley Cup win with the Detroit Red Wings, defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom is looking to add a sixth Norris to his collection.

Boston Bruins giant Zdeno Chara is the other finalist.

With 17 goals and 60 points in his third season, Phaneuf established himself as one of the game's elite offensive defencemen.

Whether or not the voters think his defensive skills are as strong as the other finalists will be known tomorrow night.

If Phaneuf pulls off the upset over Lidstrom -- still the favourite based on his 70 points and plus-40 rating --Iginla will be excited to hear what the stone-faced blueliner has to say on stage.

The hard-hitting rearguard, who turned 23 yesterday, usually lets his play on the ice do the talking.

"I don't know if it'd be long, or short," said Iginla. "But I would like to get a chance to see it."


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