Late addition Iginla steals show in biggest gamePosted: Monday February 25, 2002 1:47 PM
By Eric Francis, SLAM! Sports
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Five months after being a last-minute addition to Team Canada's training camp, Jarome Iginla stood on hockey's grandest stage to accept Olympic gold.
He'd come a long way from the early-morning drive from Edmonton to Calgary he made after his childhood hero, Wayne Gretzky, asked if he'd fill in for injured Simon Gagne.
Adding the latest chapter to a storybook season that has seen him evolve into one of the world's best players, Iginla not only took part in one of the biggest and best games in Canadian hockey history, he dominated it.
Scoring twice, adding an assist and setting up another goal with a gritty screen, the 24-year-old St. Albert native teamed up with Gagne and Joe Sakic to steal the show in Canada's first Olympic win in 50 years.
"I just wanted to get a chance to be on the team," said Iginla, when asked if he ever dreamed the late-night camp invite he thought was a prank would ever materialize into this.
"When I got invited to the camp, I dreamed of being on the team. But to win a gold medal and just to be with these guys -- so many superstars and Hall-of-Famers -- and to learn from them and meet them, it means so much to me. Just to see the flag raised and the anthem going off and that we won ... I haven't had any better moments than this."
Having brought home the gold for Canada in all three previous international tourneys he's played in, Iginla said none compared to the intensity and thrill of yesterday's 5-2 win.
"I've been fortunate enough to play for Canada before but this is the best feeling," said Iginla, who led the team in shots with six.
"This is definitely the biggest day of my career."
Showing the poise, skill and confidence that transformed him into the NHL's leading scorer following the fall training camp, Iginla snapped a 1-1 tie late in the first period by crashing the net and banging in a perfect setup by Sakic.
Midway through the second period, he was at it again, battling for position in front of the net when Sakic's shot appeared to bounce off him and past Mike Richter for a 3-2 lead.
"It hit the defenceman," said Iginla, who was also a star defensively, finishing the day plus-3.
"[Sakic] got a lot of wood on that and if that would have hit me, I would have felt it."
Iginla's heroics continued six minutes into the third when he broke open a tight, 3-2 game with a shot that went off Richter's glove before trickling off the post and over the goal line.
"To be honest, it didn't matter who got any of that stuff -- as long as we won," said the humble Flames forward.
"I'll definitely be telling my kids or someone about the whole game -- the atmosphere in the building. I loved having the crowd right on top of us and hearing both sets of fans going at it. I'll definitely be telling somebody some stories."
And they'll all be true.
After the game, Iginla searched the crowd in vain for his mother, father, grandparents and fiance who had all done their part to contribute to his rapid rise to stardom.
"Some people saw their parents and families but I wasn't able to find mine," said Iginla.
"So I tried to give the hands up in all directions just in case they were looking."
In case they were looking?
The world was looking.
And what it saw was pure gold.