Iggy's wait finally over

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 2:27 PM ET


 Jarome Iginla's mother turned on the TV and cried.

 Iginla himself didn't have enough time for such emotion as his whirlwind introduction to the NHL unfolded faster than his trademark snapshot.

 Eliminated from the Western Hockey League playoffs in Kamloops on a Saturday night, the 18-year-old got a call just before midnight from Flames interim GM Al Coates requesting his presence in Calgary the next morning.

 Delayed by inclement weather, the plane arrived hours before the afternoon start of a heated first-round playoff battle in which Chicago won the first two games.

 Minutes after signing a three- year deal worth $2.5 million US, Iginla was shocked to hear head coach Pierre Page inform him he'd be playing just over an hour later.

 Less than 14 hours after making his final junior appearance, and with no time to call family or friends with instructions to tape the game, he pulled on jersey No. 24 and was pencilled in at centre between the team's two leading scorers, Theo Fleury and German Titov.

 "I heard I was going to play and then I heard I was playing with Titov and Theo -- it was incredible how fast it all happened," recalls Iginla of the day every young hockey player dreams of.

 "It goes from me watching TV at home (in Kamloops) one night and cheering for different guys in the league I looked up to, to me on the ice going against Chris Chelios and shooting on Ed Belfour."

 Facing off mostly against Blackhawks centre Jeremy Roenick, Iginla played more than 16 minutes in a 7-5 loss in which the Flames battled to within one after surrendering a 5-0 lead.

 A natural right-winger, who played some centre in junior, Iginla made a huge impact by picking up an assist on Fleury's first goal of the night, screening Belfour on a Steve Chiasson goal and creating traffic in the crease for Fleury's second marker.

 Robbed by Belfour on one of his three shots, Iginla saw plenty of time on the powerplay and was greeted by a rousing ovation at the 'Dome when his mug was flashed on the Jumbotron with the words: "Welcome to the NHL."

 "The fact that it was the playoffs was exciting but what I remember when I think back about it is more about playing in my first game in the NHL," said Iginla, who had won MVP of the WHL and the world juniors that year.

 "It's hard to put into words. First you dream of getting drafted and then you dream of that first playoff game because, although things were going well (career-wise), you always hear about those guys who never make it.

 "It gives you chills just to get a chance to play."

 Imagine how his mom felt.

 "Seeing him on TV in his Flames uniform with his new number was overwhelming," said mom Susan Schuchard, who knew only he was en route to Calgary that morning but never dreamed he'd play that day.

 "I was calling everybody I know who would care."

 They were phone calls Iginla wished he could have made himself.

 "Mostly before the game, I thought of the shock of them turning on the TV, seeing me and saying, 'What's going on?' " laughed Iginla.

 Even more spine-tingling was his first NHL goal two nights later.

 It appeared the lone marker in the game would stand up as the winner until Chelios tied it with 8.3 seconds left.

 Three overtime periods later, a miscue by Flames defenceman Trent Yawney allowed Joe Murphy to end Iginla's storybook performance, the longest game in franchise history and the Flames season.

 Exactly 626 games later, he'll get another crack at post-season heroics.

 This time his mom, and the rest of the hockey world, knows he's playing.


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