Long before he could have imagined the career he would enjoy with the Calgary Flames, a young Jarome Iginla was in a cab with one of his buddies, heading for a midnight skate at his hometown rink in St. Albert.
The driver recognized their efforts, which reminded him of a former passenger who turned his own work ethic into a pretty nice NHL career.
“Mark Messier used to do this, too. I took him to the rink a few times,” Iginla’s friend Mike Moran recalls the cab driver saying during a ride they took as 13- or 14-year-olds.
He then told them they likely wouldn’t make the NHL, like Messier, so they should stay in school and get an education.
“It was some good advice, but little did he know what Jarome would become,” Mike said with a laugh.
The former Calgary Flames captain took his place alongside Messier in the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night, and was even introduced by the former Oilers legend Iginla idolized as a St. Albert kid.
Mike and another good friend and childhood teammate of Iginla, Bill Russell, were there for the emotional induction, as they have been for so many of Iginla’s hockey milestones.
“It was incredible,” Mike said on Tuesday. “Such an amazing experience. It went by so fast but I am honoured to have been along for the ride.”
Iginla’s NHL journey an eventful one
It’s been a long and eventful ride: 1,554 regular season NHL contests, 625 goals and 675 assists for an even 1,300 points. Another 37 goals and 68 points in 81 playoff games in eight appearances with three different teams — highlighted by the trip to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final with the Flames against the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.
Along the way, Iginla earned a pair of Maurice Richard Trophy wins, an Art Ross, the Ted Lindsay Award, Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award, and won a pair of Olympic gold medals for Canada, setting up Sidney Crosby in overtime against the U.S. at the 2010 Games in Vancouver.
Mike and Bill have been around for all of it, starting with draft day in Edmonton in 1995. They watched from behind the net as Iginla scored his first NHL goal the next year against the Chicago Blackhawks’ Eddie Belfour in the 1996 playoffs.
Mike remembers Jarome’s 1,000th regular season contest in Florida in February of 2010, just before the Olympics, and his 500th goal in Calgary in January of 2012.
They made sure they were at his last game as a member of the Los Angeles Kings in Anaheim in 2017.
And they were in Calgary with their families when Iginla’s No. 12 Calgary Flames jersey was retired and raised above the ice at the Saddledome.
Hall of Fame hockey player. Hall of Fame human
“I’d say that he is an even better human being than a hockey player,” Mike said. “And that says a lot because he is one of the all-time greats when it comes to hockey.”
Endless charitable efforts for groups like KidSport and the Alberta Children’s Hospital while with the Calgary Flames. And endless amount of respect for everyone, from teammates and staff members, to fans and members of the media. His life changed significantly over two decades in the NHL, but his values never did.
“I have learned a lot from him over the years, about hockey, health, nutrition and work ethic. But the most important thing he has taught me is how to treat people from all walks of life with kindness and respect,” Mike said.
After winning Olympic gold for the first time in Salt Lake City in 2002, Iginla called both of his friends. Bill was playing hockey in England. Mike was working on a pipeline in Northern B.C. Iginla was more interested and impressed by what they were up to than the fact he was wearing a heavy gold medal around his neck.
Even when they were young, Mike says people gravitated toward the inherently shy Iginla because of his affable nature.
“He really, truly cares about people. He’s curious about people’s lives and what they do and what’s going on in their lives. It’s not just small talk when he talks to you,” Mike said. “He’s genuinely interested in the people he meets, and the fans.”
Devotion to the hockey faithful never wavered
There was an unwritten rule for reporters fortunate enough to ride on the team’s charter for road trips during the first go-round of the Darryl Sutter days that you had to beat Iginla to the bus or be in danger of being left behind.
It was never a problem. Iginla spent every spare minute mingling with people before boarding.
At Calgary Flames home games, Mike and Bill spent plenty of time waiting to grab a post-game beverage with their buddy. He was the last guy out of the rink, soaking up every minute of the hockey environment before heading to his car then absorbing a little more on his way out of the lot.
“The fans would be waiting there, and he’d pull up and sign autographs – we’re talking 11 o’clock at night,” Mike said. “Whether they’d win or lose, he’d stick around. And not just for two or three autographs, he’d stick around for five minutes and sign all 20 autographs.”
Work ethic obvious even at a young age
Back when Iginla was the autograph seeker, there were signs of his separation from his peers on the ice.
As a nine-year-old novice, he had the ability to hit the top corner with a slapshot from just inside the blueline. None of the others could even get the puck off the ice consistently.
“There was a little bit of a flutter to it but it was still top corner,” Mike laughed.
His hair was covered by a red Cooper XL7 helmet that would have earned him plenty of attention even without his obvious skills. He was wearing Calgary Flames colours way before joining the team.
“He definitely stood out,” Mike said. “I even ended up buying one because I thought maybe it would help me play better.”
It wasn’t the gear, though, it was his work ethic and competitive nature that set him apart even in those days.
“He’d always try and push me and get me to work harder. I’d always say, ‘Well you’re blessed with a God-given talent,’” Mike said. “He doesn’t believe in that at all. He believes it’s all hard work. He’s kind of convinced me now.”
Bill is quick to agree, watching as Iginla put in time at gyms, boxing clubs, trying everything from road cycling to Pilates and yoga as he changed his training program time after time to develop new skills.
“He worked harder than anyone else. He wanted it more than anyone else,” said Bill. “As the game started changing a bit later in his career, he changed the way that he would train. He changed his weight. He changed with the game and gave himself the best opportunity to succeed. That was key.
“He was really good at everything, but he never talked about it and it was never good enough. There’s always a higher level to reach. I think that’s a big part of it. He was never satisfied.”
Fueled by a competitive nature
His competitive nature was the driving force behind the work ethic. He hated losing. Tennis or badminton. Competing in the high jump or sprinting in track and field. On the ball diamond with Bill during the summer months as an all-star baseball player. On the basketball courts. At the bowling lanes, a card table, playing trivia or just engaging in a friendly debate.
His wrestling matches with friends, and later some NHL teammates, were epic — often leading to holes in hotel room walls.
“He hated to lose,” Bill said of the retired Calgary Flames legend. “If he loses, it’s double or nothing. If he loses again, it’s double that. He’d continue to say double or nothing until he won — but he was getting the better of us most of the time. He’s the absolute ultimate competitor.”
Mike found the only way to deal with it was to go out on top and use Iginla’s own words against him in battle.
“He’d beat me nine times out of 10 and he’d chirp me a little bit. You’re only as good as your last performance. So any time I’d beat him, whether it was the first game or the last game, I’d shut it down,” he said.
“He’d beg me to play to play again. I’d say, ‘No, you’re only good as your last performance,’ because I knew I wasn’t going to win again.”
New hockey challenge ahead for Iginla
He’s taken on a new hockey challenge as head coach of the U15 prep team at RHK Kelowna. Bill is by his side as assistant. Iginla’s son, Joe, is a winger on the squad, and Bill’s boy, Liam, is a goaltender like his dad.
Iginla’s relationship with the game is nowhere near finished and who knows what the future holds. Mike, though, knows that the quest for improvement will never end.
“He is an ambassador to the game. But more importantly he is a role model for millions of people who want to simply be better. He taught me that change does not happen overnight, it takes time and effort and when you think you are done, you are not. There is always more to give,” Mike said.
“Life is a revolving door. You are always learning. And whether you want to be a better hockey player or human being, you never give up and never assume. That’s what Jarome has taught me and that is another reason why he is so deserving of his Hall of Fame induction.
“Bill and I are so proud to call him our friend.”