Total class acts

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:07 PM ET


 TAMPA -- Suffering through the lowest point of his professional career, Jarome Iginla was all class.

 Although his club had just fallen one win shy of claiming the Stanley Cup, the 26-year-old captain showed poise beyond his years as he patiently answered all questions while fighting back tears.

 While other players chose to hide from the cameras -- and understandably so -- Iginla remained the face of his club.

 That's what leaders do.

 Shouldering unnecessary blame for his part in the crushing 2-1 loss, he did himself and his city proud as he always does.

 You tell a lot about a man when he's down and Iginla's post-game actions said everything you thought about one of the classiest men in pro sports.

 That trademark smile of his was gone but his sense of decency remained.

 Leaving a media scrum to fulfill several TV requests, he returned to the locker-room, showered, dressed and began walking down a long hall towards the team bus.

 It was then he saw their faces.

 The fans.

 His friends.

 A handful of diehards who found their way into the bowels of the arena spotted him and started clapping. Instead of rushing past like most players, Iginla took the time to shake their hands.

 He signed their jerseys.

 He even smiled, saving his biggest grin for two of his high school pals who wanted to be there supporting him on the biggest night of his life.

 Although most people would want to be left alone with their thoughts, he was warmed by the unconditional support he'll see much more of today when the club is honoured at Olympic Plaza.

 Calgarians are well aware of how the Flames performed on the ice the last two months but they should also know that off the ice they represented the city in even finer fashion.

 Shocking reporters in all four visiting cities with their approachability, every player made himself available to the media whenever requested, which is rare.

 Take, for example, the Detroit Red Wings.

 Following a win only a handful of players would make themselves available to the media for a few minutes of their precious time. Following a loss the only men who could be counted on to show their faces were Steve Yzerman, Darren McCarty and Kris Draper.

 The rest hid behind the curtains separating lowly journalists from superstars like Brett Hull who never once hounoured the press -- and thus, the fans -- with his presence.

 If anything, Darryl Sutter would like to see players like Iginla spend less time with the media on game days so they can spend more time focusing on the game.

 Still, their commitment to promoting the game is so Calgarian.

 They're humble, they're patient and they're polite.

 There is no pretension in the Flames room nor are there egos clashing, which does well to explain how well this team came together with an all-for-one attitude that got them one goal away from winning the toughest tourney in sports.

 It all stems from an attitude that starts at the top of the organization and trickles down to the coach and leaders like Iginla who set a standard Calgarians can all be proud of.

 On the day of his 27th birthday -- Canada Day, appropriately enough -- Iginla will become a restricted free agent who is in line for a raise from the $7.5 million US he earned this season.

 The Flames will likely open with a qualifying offer of $7.5 million US which he'll almost certainly turn down given the playoff he had, the scoring title he shared and the Hart Trophy he's vying for. He'll probably wind up with more like $9 million.

 It's just business.

 Welcome back to the reality of today's NHL. The dream season is over.

 Expressing an admirable desire to stay in Calgary and be close to his family, Iginla and the Flames will find a way to secure his services for at least another year when, hopefully, the league will be able to get its financial house in order with a new CBA.

 To keep him will again be costly, but there is no other choice.

 He is the franchise.

 And the class of the NHL.


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