Iginla intent on helping Flames reach unfulfilled goals

Thursday, 20.09.2007 / 12:16 AM / News
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Iginla intent on helping Flames reach unfulfilled goals

Jarome Iginla remembers breaking into the NHL in his teens and thinking that a lot of the players that were skating around were old guys.

They might have been only 30, but they were old to him. "They looked ancient," he recalls. Time marches on.

The captain of the Calgary Flames, having reached 30 this summer himself, isn't a kid anymore. He's on the way to his 800th big-league game this autumn.

"It's hard to believe," he said during a league-organized conference call Wednesday.

It was back in 1995 that the Flames sent veteran centre Joe Nieuwendyk to Dallas for Iginla and Corey Millen. The Stars had drafted Iginla 11th overall out of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, who twice won the Memorial Cup with the Edmonton-born right-winger in their lineup.

Iginla got into two playoff games in 1996, and he didn't appear in another until 2003 because the Flames missed the playoffs for seven consecutive years.

Ancient history.

Olympic gold in 2002, a trip to the championship series in 2004, the sanity-sapping lockout season, first-round elimination in 2006 and 2007, and three general managers and eight coaches later, Iginla returns for another season.

"I'm pretty excited about this next stretch we're in," he says.

He's won every major individual trophy, gained respect from his peers around the league, and was one win from the hoisting the Stanley Cup three years ago, but a lot of the faces in the dressing room have changed since then and with the much-travelled Mike Keenan taking over as head coach is in a lot of ways like starting over.

It could be a glorious winter of hockey in Calgary if the two are able to see eye to eye and work together. Otherwise, Keenan could lose the room and a glorious opportunity could go down the NHL drain.

Asked for an early impression of Keenan, Iginla was evasive.

"It's pretty early," he says.

The training camp practice tempo has been fast.

"He likes us to think quick," says Iginla.

The first two pre-season games didn't paint a grin on Keenan's face.

"We haven't got a win yet so he's not that thrilled," says Iginla. "You can tell there's definitely an intensity there, similar to (GM) Darryl (Sutter).

"We definitely want to get on his good side quickly."

When the regular season begins, Keenan's most immediate concern will be remedying road woes that saw the Jim Playfair-coached Flames win only 13 times in opponents' rinks last season.

"That was tough on us," Iginla says. "To have one of the top home records in the league and go on the road and have one of the worst records . . . we can all admit we obviously have to find a way to be better (on the road).

"It wasn't all bad breaks and bad bounces. There's a lot of things to improve on. It'd be nice to get off to a good start and build some confidence and not have to hear about the road record all year."

There'll be trips to more places if the board of governors goes ahead with revamping things in a season or two to revert to a setup where there is more interconference play than there is now.

"I'd be a fan of going back to that," says Iginla.

The Flames want to compete against and Calgary fans want to see stars in the Eastern Conference such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin more than once every two or three years, he says.

Should the number of games against division rivals be reduced from eight to work in seldom-seen teams, it would mean more travel. That's fine, says Iginla.

"Most guys I've talked to would like to go back to the type of schedule where you see every team," he says.

Wherever he plays, Iginla is a fan favourite.

He's earned the admiration, and he's earned his new $35-million, five-year contract.

He's in his prime.

To rookies around the league, he might even look ancient.