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The first time I saw Jarome Iginla, I didn’t really see him.
He was just another kid who loved to fly into action trying to make 50 cents chasing foul balls when the public address announcer shouted the words: “Heads up behind,” at the Lacombe Lions baseball tournament.
Those were Iginla’s first memories of sports, the trips to the annual tournament trumpeted as the largest ball tournament in Canada with his baseball-loving grandfather.
I love Hall of Fame selection days because when you make it into the ultimate shrine of your sport, you can’t help but think back to all the people who played a part in sharing your journey along the way.
It was definitely that way for Iginla and he articulated it in the media conference call that followed the introduction of builder Ken Holland and players Marian Hossa, Kevin Lowe, Kim St. Pierre and Doug Wilson.
When you get the news, you can’t help but begin to think of all the people who played a part in sharing your journey along the way.
Long-time Calgary Flames superstar Iginla, who will be the poster boy and ultimate headliner of induction night Nov. 16, was like all the others, with a number of coaches, teammates and minor-hockey people who would influence his career while growing up in St. Albert.
But there was one central person in his story that made Iginla’s trek to the shrine special and it simply would never have happened, Iginla testified Wednesday, if it hadn’t been for grandpa Rick.
“I definitely thought of him today,” said Iginla in the media conference call when I brought up the relationship. “I thought of how excited he would have been if he’d been here today and how much a part of it he was.”
Baseball became Iginla’s first love. But hockey followed because of his grandfather’s love of the Edmonton Oilers.
Iginla grew into hockey and like any other kid in St. Albert growing up during the glory years of the Oilers, he idolized future Hall-of-Famers like Lowe, Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and goalie Grant Fuhr, whom he remembered meeting at the Lacombe tournament.
Captivated by Fuhr’s style more than their shared skin color, it is now a forgotten fact that the Oilers netminder completed his career in Calgary and Iginla went out of his way Wednesday to talk about what a thrill that was, along with being able to say he played with him in Fuhr’s final game.
While it would become an ironic twist of fate that Iglina would go on to spend most of his career down the QE2 in Calgary, generally imposing his will on the Oilers, Iginla made reference to those years Wednesday that got lost locally in the surprise selections of Lowe and Detroit Red Wings-turned-Edmonton Oilers Ken Holland as Edmonton Hockey Hall of Fame story lines.
Iginla’s mother, Susan Schuchard, daughter of Rick and Francis, married a law student from Nigeria, Adekunie Iginla, who legally changed his name to Elvis Iginla because nobody seemed to be able to pronounce his first name.
The marriage only lasted two years and Rick became the father figure in young Jarome’s life and a huge influence when it came to sports.
While his dad remained in his life, it was Rick who not only introduced him to sports, but the passion.
“My grandpa was a huge part of my growing up and my grandma, Francis, too,” said Iginla. “My grandpa took me to my first hockey practice — my first tryouts in St. Albert. We showed up and thought we were going to get a jersey there and socks. I was seven and I’d only been on the ice once. I showed up and they didn’t have a jersey and socks, so my grandpa had to run to a sports store. He still talked me into going on the ice, skating around in shin pads when I could barely skate.
“When he came back, he’d bought me a jersey. It was actually a Calgary Flames jersey. It didn’t have the crest. That makes sense now because the Flames were not very popular in Edmonton.
“The other neat thing when I think back is that he was very competitive and he’d love to watch hockey.
“On the Friday night, we’d stop by at this fresh popcorn place. He was a huge, huge Oilers fan. We’d watch game games and share the popcorn.
“He was so special and so important. He never once told me I had a bad game. I had some bad games but he was always so positive. I know that’s not easy now being a parent. I’m trying and I’m learning and I’m trying to remember him.”
Iginla didn’t win a Stanley Cup or a Hart Trophy. But he won two Olympic gold medals, an IIHF World Championship, a world junior championship and two Memorial Cup titles. He won an Art Ross trophy, two Rocket Richards, a Ted Lindsay and far exceeded minimum numbers required. As one of only seven players to score 30 or more goals in 11 consecutive seasons, he ended up one of 20 players to score more than 600 goals and one of 34 players to reach 1,300 points.
Iginla didn’t get to be an Oiler like Hall-of-Famer Messier or Hall-of-Famer Fuhr. But like Messier in St. Albert, Fuhr in Spruce Grove and Glenn Hall in Stony Plain, he’s an Edmonton HHoF inductee who has his name on an arena.
His grandpa should have his name on the place, too.
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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