Flames legend Iginla takes youth coaching job, faces dilemma at home

Gene Principe and Mark Spector preview the first edition of the Battle of Alberta for the 2021 NHL season.

Born in Edmonton but coronated in Calgary, Jarome Iginla insists his allegiance to the Flames will never change.

However, as the first of 10 instalments of the Battle of Alberta is about to face off, the Flames legend admits he’s on the horns of a dilemma.

“My boys are big fans of both teams,” chuckled the retired Flames legend from his home in Boston.

“I’m not happy they’re Oilers fans, but I can’t impose my will on them.”

Funny, as he imposed his will on opponents more effectively than almost any player of his era, over his storied 21-year career.

Clearly they’ve lived in the United States for too long, as everybody knows you have to pick sides in Alberta’s interprovincial punch-up.

“I know — growing up, when you are living it, you are one or the other,” said Iginla, who eclipsed the 500-goal and 1,000-point mark during his 16-year stint as the Flames' longtime captain.

“They haven’t lived through it. In Edmonton they like Connor McDavid and Tyson Barrie who they got to see in Colorado (with their dad). With the Flames there’s a long history there and they’ve got their (Sean) Monahan and (Johnny) Gaudreau pictures, and Looch (Milan Lucic) has sent them stuff.

“I’ll have to ask which one they are cheering for. I’m not sure they’ll be honest with me.”

Perhaps the two youngsters will better comprehend the hatred between the two fan bases this summer when the family moves back to Kelowna where dad has a job waiting for him.

On Friday Iginla was announced as head coach of the U15 Prep team at RINK Hockey Academy Kelowna, where his family’s longtime summer home is just 15 minutes away.

It is there he will coach Joe, 12, while helping out former Flames teammate Byron Ritchie with the U18 team 14-year-old Tij hopes to play on.

“I guess it’s my first post-hockey job, but it doesn’t feel like a job,” laughed Iginla, who retired from his Hall of Fame career in 2017 following hip surgery.

“I’ve enjoyed coaching kids the last four years. I like the competitive side of it. I love the grassroots side of hockey and all that it offers kids, but my passion lies more with kids that truly want to get better and excel and enjoy competing. That’s where my fit is best.”

As a volunteer co-coach with the Boston Jr. Eagles, the 43-year-old Iginla recently helped Tij’s 2006 team progress from a ranking of 20th to tops in the nation. Not too shabby.

The Iginlas set up shop in Boston expressly because of its highly-regarded minor hockey program, in which all three of his kids have excelled.

“Both boys are forwards and both like scoring goals and offence,” said Iginla, one of the game’s last great power forwards, who finished with 625 goals, good for 16th all time.

“The boys are serious about hockey and it gives them a chance to excel with their programs. I would have loved to have been a part of a prep program like this when I was growing up.”

Their passion for the game meshed brilliantly with the offer made by the Winnipeg-based company that bought Kelowna’s Program of Excellence and is giving it a facelift with a new facility and the high-profile hiring of Iginla and skills coach Glenn Carnegie.

“We miss Canada and family and friends, and home is back west,” said Iginla.

“We always planned to move back west but we were going to wait until my daughter (16-year-old Jade) was done grade 12. She’s in grade 11 and she went to play at Shattuck in Minnesota this year and she’s loving it. The time was right for us to come home.”

Iginla said he’s somehow gravitated to the defensive side of the game as a coach.

“Funny, when I coach I do a lot of work with the defencemen,” said Iginla.

“I get drawn to working with them and helping them be part of the offence and making plays and moving the puck.”

He said he has yet to make calls to some of his former coaches like Darryl Sutter or Mike Keenan to ask for tips, but he often finds himself thinking of their techniques along the way.

“I can see why a lot of ex-players get into coaching,” he said.

“I think of Rico (former Calgary assistant coach Rich Preston) and Darryl and how much fun they had. I see where they are coming from. I’ve definitely used some of their one liners, and a few from Keenan too. Coaching these kids is not that much different. The speed is, yes, but some days they’re flat and not into it and they jump out of the way of the puck and you’re like, ‘Are you kidding me, you’re a d-man — you’re supposed to eat pucks!’”

Iginla said that while he watches NHL highlights with the kids nightly, he doesn’t miss playing anymore.

“I’m in a good place because I wouldn’t rather be doing it — I’d really rather be home with the kids and watching their sports and I know playing would be at the cost of that,” said Iginla, who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in the fall.

“It looks so fun to be out there though. It makes me appreciate it’s a fun, neat job. There are stresses that go with it day-to-day, and you’re always being in the now and ‘what have you done lately?’ But you’ve got 20 personalities and endless jokes in the room, and I’ve enjoyed helping with teenagers and seeing them go through it.”

If only he could set them straight on which team to cheer for.

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