Iginla smiles easily, thanks checkout clerks, supports charities, puts the team first and takes care of his mother, Susan Schuchard. She is an Oregonian who moved with her family to Alberta and later married Elvis Iginla, a Nigerian immigrant who is now a lawyer in Edmonton. They divorced before Jarome was two, and Susan's parents helped raise the boy while she worked multiple jobs in Edmonton. Now she's a year away from an education degree at the University of Alberta. (Jarome pays the tuition.) "As far as his altruism [goes], I don't even hear about it most of the time," Susan says. "I didn't even know he was a spokesman for juvenile diabetes until I read it."
There is a wonderful story here, but few in the U.S. know about Iginla, who plays on a team from a Canadian city of 900,000, a team that had missed the NHL playoffs for seven straight years and was hardly ever on television in the U.S. Before the 2004 playoffs Calgary had appeared on ESPN2 only 11 times and ESPN once since Iginla's rookie season of 1996-97. That's a month's worth of exposure for the Red Wings- Avalanche-Flyers axis. Nor has Iginla, a star on Canada's Olympic gold medal team in Salt Lake City, made an impact in the U.S. beyond the confines of the rink. He has appeared on Much Music in Canada but not on MTV. He has been featured in Maclean's, the Canadian newsweekly, but not in TIME. On Black Entertainment Television but not on CBS. The publicity-starved NHL has been trying to arrange a satellite hookup with Oprah this week. "I'd be pretty nervous," Iginla says. "My family loves Oprah."
"He's in the Tiger Woods mold, someone who could bring more African-Americans to the game," says Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports consulting firm. "But as good a player and story as he is, as long as he's in Calgary, he won't be a [ U.S.] national figure. For players in small markets, especially in a Canadian market, it's almost impossible. He's not Gretzky."
Even the Great One, who gained his fame and his four Stanley Cups in Edmonton, didn't truly elevate hockey in the U.S. until he took his personal klieg light to Los Angeles in 1988. If Gretzky could be traded, any player has a price tag. But after fretting annually that his high salary (currently $75 million) might force the cost-conscious Flames to move him, Iginla looks like a big tree with deep roots. Calgary wants to keep him, and he wants to stay. The only thing that could make Iginla happier than remaining in Calgary is winning a Stanley Cup there.
If the Flames wind up parading the Cup down Calgary's 17th Avenue, the Red Mile, next week, Trudy Wylie promises to tug a baseball cap over her bald scalp and go down to party as if it were 1989, the last time the Flames won the NHL title. Says Iginla, "I hope I see her."