Iginla's boys hit the road

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:01 PM ET


 DETROIT -- In many ways, it was a typical boys' weekend.

 Four guys in their mid-20s meeting up in Hockeytown for a road trip, sandwiching a few drinks, some gambling and a whole lot of laughs around a Saturday playoff game.

 Although only three sat in the crowd at Joe Louis Arena, all four wore Jarome Iginla jerseys, drawing the ire of a mouthy Motown fan base that knows Calgary's playoff hopes revolve largely around No. 12.

 The difference between this trip and countless others the St. Albert quartet has shared over the years is this time one of them is actually playing in the game.

 That'd be Jarome.

 The other three are his best friends from grade school who've known how special Iginla was from the days he tended goal outside his grandparents' house.

 "He was a pretty good street-hockey goalie," laughed Mike Moran, 27, who shared duties with Bill Russell as best men at Iggy's summer wedding in 2003.

 "He was good at everything he did -- tennis, baseball, golf, bowling ... even music lessons," added Bill, 27, a longtime minor hockey teammate of Iginla's.

 "He's always been a leader. That's his character and he used it no matter what he put his efforts into," offered Roger Smith.

 A pipeline worker in northern B.C., a mortgage broker in Edmonton, a cultural diversity director in Milwaukee and a hockey player in Calgary -- a lot has changed since the longtime neighbours teamed up as atom triple-A Cougars or bantam triple-A Sabres. But what has remained constant is the bond of friendship they've shared and the caring, even-keeled, respectful manner in which Iginla carries himself to this day.

 "It's exciting to hear other people talk about him and say that he's modest and humble and just an all-around good guy because that's the way he is," said Mike.

 "What he's accomplished is amazing but it never surprises us because we always expect great things from him."

 Especially as a friend.

 "The guy could win a gold medal or a Stanley Cup but when he calls you the first thing he wants to talk about is you, your life, your job, your relationship -- it's almost annoying," laughed Mike. "He won't let you ask anything about him before he finds out about your situation. What he does in his life is important to him but he doesn't let it overshadow anything."

 While Mike and Bill used family connections at Air Canada, Roger drove up from Milwaukee for the gathering. Thrilled to hear his pals would be on hand, Iginla got them tickets and arranged for their hotel room.

 "He didn't give us any extra money for the Casino, though," laughed Mike.

 "He's helped us out in different ways over the years. He's the type of guy who wants people to make it on their own. He never gives handouts at all but he'll encourage people to go to school or pursue job opportunities any way he can."

 Adds Bill: "At the same time, he's still very generous."

 Because Iginla's schedule is obviously busy, the group only managed to spend 10 minutes at the hotel with their pal as part of their whirlwind 24-hour trip. And five more minutes before Iginla jetted home after the 5-2 loss. Yesterday, the trio packed up and went their respective ways, sure to keep in touch through regular phone messages and email.

 "Jarome always gets back to you ... eventually," laughed Roger, who rounded out Jarome's wedding party with Derek Morris and Jason Holland. "He's always gone out of his way to make people feel comfortable. A great friend."

 Still, can the boys really believe their former road hockey goalie, baseball shortstop and winger is now being talked about as perhaps the best player in the world?

 "Actually, it is believable because he's always pushed himself and had faith in himself and God," said Bill.

 "From nine years old we thought he was going to make the NHL. When you stand back and see how much he's making a year and how many goals he scores, it's pretty amazing but at the same time it's pretty believable because he always led every category in every league he's played in. Through it all, he hasn't changed a bit. Outside of his wife and family, no one is prouder of him than we are."


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