SUN Hockey Pool

Jarome built in a day

STEVE MACFARLANE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

He'd already watched the Day 1 highlights, so when a call came through asking him to pack his bags as quickly as possible and make the three-hour drive for the second session, Jarome Iginla was suspicious.

An 11th-hour invitation to an Olympic orientation camp that included some of the best hockey players in the world can be cause for skepticism for a guy who had just one 30-goal season under his belt in five NHL seasons.

"At first, I seriously thought it could be a hoax -- one of the guys playing a joke," Iginla recalled of the message asking him to come down (to Calgary) to the Hockey Canada-hosted camp in preparation for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

"I'd show up with my bags, uninvited -- 'Hey, guys, can I play?' "

Unexpected as the invite was, it might have been the most important moment of Iginla's hockey career.

"I was out to eat with my dad and brothers and sisters and stuff, and my girlfriend at the time -- who's my wife now, Kara -- was trying to get a hold of me," Iginla said. "After dinner, she called and said Kevin Lowe from Hockey Canada called -- I think it was Kevin Lowe -- and they want you to come down for camp."

Confirming it wasn't one of his Calgary Flames teammates playing a prank, Iginla drove down from Edmonton that night.

"Kara had a number, and I called and checked it out," he said with a laugh. "I figured it sounded like (Lowe) on TV, so I think it's him."

The 24-year-old man who was out to dinner that night with family was much different upon his return to St. Albert a few days later.

"It was a huge shot for my confidence. I talked about it and really did want to get to the next level and be an elite player in the league," Iginla said. "It's different when you can feel it as a player and actually believe it.

"I went down there, and I was on the ice with some of the best players in the world, representing some of the best players in Canada. We had scrimmages and stuff. I didn't dominate by any means, but it felt good to be out there holding my own. I think that was a huge confidence boost to say it is possible to play with these guys and compete with them.

"Going into the season, that was a huge boost."

Iginla carried the confidence from the orientation camp into his sixth NHL season. He rocketed to stardom with a 52-goal, 96-point campaign that earned him the Art Ross (top scorer), the Rocket Richard (top goal-getter) and the Lester B. Pearson (most outstanding player as voted by the NHLPA) trophies. Legend has it he was robbed of the Hart Trophy by a single vote.

With 24 goals and 44 points in his first 33 games of the season before Team Canada made its roster announcement Dec. 15, 2001, there was no surprise this time when Iginla was named to the squad.

Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson still clearly recalls the unexpected rise to stardom that started with the late invitation.

"We had to name a player because Joe Sakic wasn't available for the camp. Jarome Iginla was next on the list," Nicholson said. "Not only did he come in and play great at the orientation camp, he played so good for the Flames -- he was a key member of the 2002 team."

Scoring twice in the gold-medal game, a 5-2 victory over the U.S., Iginla cemented his spot in Canadian history during the most incredible year of his hockey career.

He could be captain of Team Canada in his third Winter Olympics next February.

"My first time, I didn't have any leadup or anything to get too excited," Iginla said. "When I went down, I was pretty nervous. I didn't know too many of the guys."

It didn't stop him from fitting in.

"He came in in typical Iggy fashion, with a big smile," recalled Hockey Canada's Wayne Fleming. "It became quite clear from a skating and skills standpoint that he was very deserving to be there.

"He took advantage of the opportunity."

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OLYMPIC FLAME

IGINLA'S 2002 SEASON

AT SALT LAKE CITY GAMES

GP G A Pts

6 3 1 4

(TWO GOALS AND ONE ASSIST IN GOLD-MEDAL GAME)

HOT START

(IGINLA'S STATS FROM OLYMPIC ORIENTATION CAMP TO SELECTION TO SQUAD)

GP G A Pts

33 24 18 42

BIG FINISH

Jarome joins the NHL's elite

GP G A Pts

82 52* 44 96*

(*MOST IN LEAGUE IN 2001-02)


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