Iginla stuck with it

Calgary Flames Jarome Iginla, right, and Rene Bourque celebrate Iginla's empty-net goal in third...

Calgary Flames Jarome Iginla, right, and Rene Bourque celebrate Iginla's empty-net goal in third period NHL action against the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, December 10, 2011. (Mike Drew/QMI Agency)

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:08 PM ET

CHICAGO Anybody whos followed Jarome Iginla and the Calgary Flames over the past dozen years would find it impossible to fathom.

Iginla is the face of the franchise, the clubs all-time leading scorer and a star on the cusp of scoring goal No. 500, but early in his career, Iginla wasnt sure he would be a marksman of note.

Iginla figured he may become a grinding winger who provided energy with more grit than goals.

Thats what happens when a player who pots 21 goals in his rookie season scores only 13 times in Year 2.

My second year was a tough year, recalled Iginla, whose Flames visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday (5 p.m., Sportsnet Flames).

Youre trying to figure what role youre going to have in the NHL whether you could be a goal-scorer and I was a goal-scorer growing up.

You start to just be thankful youre in the NHL but wonder if youre going to score goals here and lose confidence. I remember thinking, even for a split second, Maybe Im not going to be a scorer in the NHL. Maybe Ill be in a role with some fighting and grinding. Youre fighting just to stay in the NHL.

I really enjoy that part of the game (scoring goals). Its what I did growing up, and Im thankful for that day and fortunately things turned around.

Then came a conversation with then-teammate Bill Lindsay, whod gone from a scorer in junior to a depth-winger role in the NHL.

He said to me, If you get into a different role, lose your confidence, you become a different player We were all scorers or offensive players at one point, so its important to stick with it, Iginla said. He encouraged me to believe I could keep doing it and not shift to just dumping the puck in the zone all the time. Theres a time and place for doing that, but it opened my eyes.

Thats humbling for me to have someone of his calibre remember something like that, said Lindsay, currently part of Florida Panthers TV broadcasts. Hes probably done that to 20, 30, 50 people along the way, too. Im sure hes given back to others, too.

Lindsay doesnt recall the conversation but remembers a young player determined to be his best.

I saw someone committed to the game, who wasnt going to give up, Lindsay said. He worked too hard for someone to say, Youre only going to be able to do this, only able to do that. Jarome had too many talents and too much work ethic to let people limit him.

Limits on Iginla were unfounded.

Hes on the verge of becoming the 42nd player in NHL history to reach the 500-goal milestone, needing four more heading into Sundays clash with the Blackhawks.

Id like to keep going, too, Iginla said of the milestone. Im thankful Im close and would like to get there, but Id like to keep going. I feel I have more in me. Im enjoying the game, still love it and want to keep playing a lot longer.

I still feel I can score a lot more goals.

Nobody could have predicted Iginla would hit the mark which should make him a slam-dunk Hall-of-Famer, but there were signs.

Craig Hartsburg saw one in Iginlas first games on the big stage. Iginla jumped from the junior ranks into the 1996 NHL playoffs against a Blackhawks squad coached by Hartsburg and scored in his second tilt.

A snapshot from the slot somebody passed it to him in the slot, and his release was quick. I think he caught (Blackhawks goaltender) Ed Belfour by surprise, said Hartsburg, who is now the Flames associate coach.

Flames bench boss Brent Sutter was on that Blackhawks team and remembers the talk of Iginlas arrival.

You could tell he was a really good player. They had him playing centre that night, and I took a few faceoffs against him, Sutter said. I was old, he was young, and now hes catching up to me.

And catching up to the NHLs all-time greats.

Five hundred goals. Its mind-boggling, said Flames centre Brendan Morrison. Im a goal away from 200. Im not a goal-scorer, but to think 300 more goals thats a lot.

And were not playing in an era of all-out offence like in the mid-80s. For his generation, hes probably the premier goal-scorer when you look at his time in the league.


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