Original linemate recalls dawn of 'special player'

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

A couple of games ago, Jarome Iginla's linemates were Dustin Boyd and rookie Mikael Backlund.

Talk about feeling like the Old Man and the C.

"It's funny how it all comes full circle," Iginla said. "I can remember when I came into the league and I played on Dave Gagner's line, he was 31 or 32, and I remember thinking, 'Oh, man, he's getting up there.' "

Years later, Iginla is the greybeard -- not that he can grow much of a beard -- at age 32. As he approaches his 1,000th career game Friday night in Florida, the Flames captain has been looking back on his career, and Gagner's name has cropped up often.

They spent only one season together, but Iginla has mentioned how much he learned from Gagner -- who skated mainly on a line with Iginla and Jonas Hoglund during the 1996-97 campaign.

"It's nice of Jarome to say that, but I don't know if I was as much an influence as his parents and grandparents," said Gagner, who is now the director of player development for the Vancouver Canucks. "They taught him to be a good person and have so much respect for the game, people, the opportunity he has, all the things important in life.

"He's done so well, and what's nice to see is he's done so well, and it hasn't really changed who he is or what he's all about.

"I think a lot of people had more impact than I did."

You know Gagner did something right, though.

In Gagner's only year with the Flames, he helped Iginla gather 21 goals and 29 assists as a rookie for the Pierre Page-coached squad.

Gagner can't say he knew Iginla would go on to become the face of the franchise and all-time leading scorer, but he will admit to knowing he was seeing the early days of a very special player.

"He was mature already and able to play a physical role with good skill, as well. He was skilled offensively and able to play in a defensive role, too. He was a well-rounded player at a young age," Gagner said. "The question you had, as with all young players, was whether he'd come to play every day, and we learned that quickly. He was a special guy.

"I like that he still takes on that physical role to spur his team. He takes that on himself.

"My role was to ensure he knew it was important to come to work every day. Obviously, his career's been all about that. I can't take any credit for that, but I know as a 19-year-old, sometimes he wasn't always ready, but he's been a consistent performer through the years."


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