Since Willie O’Ree broke the NHL’s color barrier in 1958, hockey has continued to be a racist sport. In the last decade alone, Wayne Simmonds had a banana thrown at him, P.K. Subban and Joel Ward were subjected to racist social media posts after scoring playoff game-winning goals. Devante Smith-Pelly was ridiculed in the penalty box. Just this past April, New York Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller had a video chat during the pandemic hacked by someone who posted a racial slur hundreds of times.
In a hockey world where the NHL was jolted by allegations of racism, the Hockey Hall of Fame’s inclusion of Jarome Iginla, his Nigerian ancestry, and his numerous accomplishments arrived at the perfect time.
Iginla skated in 1,219 of his 1,554 NHL games (14th all-time) with the Calgary Flames. Selected by the Dallas Stars 11th overall in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, Iginla was traded to the Flames with Corey Millen in December 1995 in exchange for Joe Nieuwendyk. “Iggy” started his NHL career in 1996 and went on to score 625 goals (16th all-time), dish 675 assists for 1,300 points (35th all=time). He won two Rocket Richard Trophies, the King Clancy, the Art Ross, and the Ted Lindsay Award. He scored 50-goals twice and 40 goals four times. The Edmonton native was a six-time All-Star and won two Memorial Cups with the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. The big power forward captured the WHL’s player of the year award and was named the Canadian Hockey League
From the first time, Iginla’s skate touched NHL ice in 1996-97 until his final game in 2016-17, no player scored more goals or played more games.
Considered the first black captain in NHL history, Iginla captained the Flames for ten seasons and garnered the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2009. He is a philanthropist and was rewarded the NHL Foundation Player Award
Iginla was mean but respectful. He did nothing but win, with the exception of the Stanley Cup.
His long-time coach in Calgary, Darryl Sutter said:
“You want to pick a perfect player in all aspects of the game – on the ice, off it and training – he was the whole deal,” Sutter said.
“He’s an awesome man and great human being. He was a guy who cared about his team and winning and was such a great family guy through it all. His character was off the charts.”
“I had Jarome as a young player and young captain and superstar in Calgary, and I had him at the end of his career in L.A., and his character never changed – it hadn’t diminished,” said Sutter, who was particularly touched by the way Iginla befriended his son Chris, who has Down syndrome.
“He was a great teammate and great guy to coach, and at the end it was more of a friendship than anything else.”
“It’s hard for me to talk about,” Sutter said of a 2-1 loss that earned the Tampa Bay Lightning the Cup.
“When we lost I was feeling so bad for him because he felt he could have done
st Game 7 in Tampa, him and I were the last guys to walk out to the bus and I was feeling so bad for him because he felt he could have done more. He carried us on his back for two months and still felt he could do more.”
According to Sportsnet, Craig Conroy, Iginla’s longtime linemate, saw his interactions with the fans on a regular basis. Conroy joked that Iggy was annoying – especially when the team bus had to wait for him to sign every last autograph.
“It’s not like he did it once – he did it every day,” Conroy said when asked about that and the legendary story regarding Iginla’s efforts to find and pay for accommodations for fans he ran into at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“If he thought somebody needed a meal, he just bought it. It’s like, ‘Now I feel bad – I need to do more myself.’”
Conroy said Iginla would quietly buck up if the rookie dinners got a little too expensive, and was always the one to pay for rounds of beer or golf with the lads.
“That was his personality,” Conroy said. “My wife’s cousin passed away and he happened to be at our lake house in New York shortly after that and out of nowhere he pulled out his checkbook. Why he even had one was beyond me. But he put a cheque in their fund for the kids. That’s just Jarome.”
“Growing up, you treat people well and good things happen — he really believed that,” Conroy said. “at’s his code. Off the ice, you’re not going to meet a better person.”
Former player and a Flames assistant coach, Martin Gelinas said of Iginla;
“He’s done everything you can do in this game, not only on the ice but off the ice. There are people you work with and say, ‘He was a good player but as a person, he’s just okay.’ But Iginla is the ultimate poster boy for the NHL and is just a person you like to be around all the time because he’s so nice. He was charismatic in interviews, too. When you said something that triggers him in a positive way, his face would light up with that smile.”
Former teammate and competitor Brendan Morrison said while chuckling:
“He’s such a genuine person — pretty quiet and reserved…until he gets fired up and engaged emotionally — then the other side of him shows up. He was a guy you had to key on because he could not only beat you with his goal-scoring prowess and offensive abilities but could change the outcome of a game through his physicality. If things weren’t going well offensively he’d engage someone physically, and he could hurt you.”
Iggy’s former teammate, TSN’s Jamie McLennan summed up the Hall of Famer this way:
“You realize pretty quickly how special he is. He is very thoughtful, level-headed – and he thinks ‘How dare someone act a certain way?’ He pays attention. I think that’s rubbed off on all of us as friends. He really is the gold standard.”