TORONTO – Standing at the front of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Great Hall, sporting the coveted ring he was just presented, Jarome Iginla was asked if he was robbed.
Robbed of a Stanley Cup, or the Hart Trophy, which both slipped through his fingers by the narrowest of margins.
As odd as asking about the only two things that ever eluded one of the game’s greatest power forwards was, it generated the type of response that said as much about the man as his gaudy stats.
“No, it’s sports,” said Iginla, presumably flashing that world-class grin of his beneath the Hall of Fame mask provided.
“I wasn’t (robbed). With the Hart Trophy, I would have loved to have won it. It’s an opinion. When I saw how close it was, that I was tied (with winner Jose Theodore, in 2001-02), I was still thrilled to be there. What an honour.
“The Stanley Cup obviously hurt more. That was a stinger.”
Calgarians have used plenty more colourful terms over the years to describe the Martin Gelinas goal that could have sealed the Stanley Cup in 2004 – the closest Iginla or anyone could possibly get without hoisting it.
Alas, with video technology and the rules for challenging far different from what they are now, play continued on, late in a deadlocked Game 6 eventually won by Tampa Bay.
It was interesting that on the eve of his Hall of Fame induction, Iginla revealed for the first time he has some second thoughts on how the goalmouth redirection – saved on, or behind, the goal line by Nikolai Khabibulin – was handled.
“This is probably what bothers me most about it,” said the long-time Flames captain of that night the Cup was rushed out of the Saddledome, unclaimed, after a loss in double overtime.
“It was a two-on-one, and a pass across, and I’m like, ‘Oh, that was close.’ But at that time you had to get the ref’s attention before the puck dropped. It happened pretty quick. I just wish I would have been, like, ‘Check it, check it.’”
He didn’t say anything and the game went on, until an angle on the NBC broadcast seemed to show it had crossed the line. Or so the debate goes.
Either way, leave it to one of the game’s classiest men to point out how foolish he’d be to dwell on a setback like that when he’d been the beneficiary of so much good fortune.
“To play until I was 39 and play on Team Canada with players like Yzerman, Lemieux, Sakic, Crosby ... it was so cool,” said the man who scored 525 goals and 1,095 points as a Flame before rounding out his career in Pittsburgh, Boston, Colorado and L.A., finishing with 625 goals and 675 assists for 1,300 points.
“So, I don’t feel like I was robbed at all. I never think that way.
“I’m sure if you think about overtime in 2010 (at the Vancouver Games), that’s a good shot and play by Crosby, but if that bounce goes the other way, (maybe) we lose. That’s part of sport and what you sign up for.
“I got lots of good bounces in different ways and in games and we won championships. Memorial Cups and World Juniors.
“I got to throw my gloves in the air like I was 10 years old again. There are so many things to reflect on and be thankful for, and that is sport. I always used to say, ‘The more in the line, the more fun.’”
Pausing, he shrugged.
“But it doesn’t always go your way,” he said.
“What is the Wide World of Sports, ‘The agony of defeat and thrill of victory’?
“I had lots of neat thrills, and unfortunately, a few of those (losses). But that’s what makes me appreciate all I had.”
Growing up he didn’t have much, which is also what makes his success story so brilliant.
Raised by a single mother in St. Albert, Alberta, his grandfather took him to every hockey and baseball game he had across Western Canada.
Paying him $2 for every goal, $1 for every assist and a whopping $100 in cash for every hat trick once he got to the Kamloops Blazers, Grandpa helped foster a competitiveness that saw Iginla’s scoring prowess turn into more than $91 million in career earnings.
It also got his No. 12 raised to the rafters in Calgary, where he now sits on equal footing with legend Lanny McDonald as a local icon.
He could choose to complain about the Montreal reporter who left him off the Hart ballot to cinch Theodore’s win, but that’s not what leaders do.
As fans chanted while he gave his jersey retirement speech, “It – was – in.”
The goal probably should have counted to complete his 2004 playoff odyssey in which he carried the team on his back by scoring big goals and fighting in every round.
But, again, such is life in sport.
An injury to Simon Gagne the first day of the Olympic summer camp in 2002 opened the door for Iginla to receive an invitation from Wayne Gretzky to drive down from Edmonton with his equipment to skate with a team he’d eventually make.
A fortuitous turn of events he capitalized on.
He recalled thinking early in the tourney, when things opened poorly for Canada, that the thousands of dollars he’d spent on souvenir Olympic jerseys for friends would be a waste of money.
“Nobody will want these,” he said, laughing.
A few bounces later and, guess what, his Olympic jersey is now hanging in the Hall of Fame.
As he points out, one of his goals in that tourney rolled over the line by an inch or so.
The result: 50 years of Olympic drought ... over.
Eight years later, he gets the puck to Sid for the Golden Goal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
“That was one of those moments where it ends the right way,” said Iginla.
“The way you grew up dreaming it would end.”
But on Friday, with five other inductees by his side in hockey’s ultimate shrine, he surpassed the wildest of dreams a young man could have conjured up while on the outdoor rink in ill-fitting tube skates.
“I was here (at the Hall of Fame) once in my early 20s, and never even thought I’d be here again like this,” said Iginla, an Art Ross Trophy winner and the first Canadian to win the Rocket Richard Trophy.
“I was just hoping to get in the league and somehow stay in the league.”
Shows you what a few bounces, and a lot of persistence, can do for a fella.