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Milestone After Milestone for Jarome Iginla

Wednesday, 03.19.2014 / 10:07 AM
By Caryn Switaj - BostonBruins.com / Bruins Blog
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Milestone After Milestone for Jarome Iginla

BostonBruins.com - It's been a season of milestones for Jarome Iginla. But, then again, every season nearly is for the likely future Hall of Famer and veteran of 17 NHL seasons.

On March 17, Iginla played in his 1300th career NHL game. He fired in two goals in the Bruins' 4-1 win over Minnesota to reach his 14th 25-goal season.

A night later, he scored in Boston's 4-2 win over New Jersey to reach 556 career goals, tying Bruins legend Johnny "The Chief" Bucyk fpr 25th on the all-time goals list.

Chief had joked with Iginla at the beginning of the season, that the Bruin would catch him.

"Pretty cool," Iginla had admitted.

Whether they're forced milestones, rounded numbers or significant achievements, Iginla's at the point in his career where everything keeps adding up.

"I think it would be tough for him to keep track," Chris Kelly laughed, when I asked if they keep track for him. "1,300 games."

The Bruins' alternate captain took a few seconds to let that sink in, and then shook his head slightly.

"That’s a lot of hockey games. That's 1,300 regular season hockey games. That’s not playoffs or preseason games or practices. That’s a lot of hockey. And he still shows up and plays hard. He’s so strong, just a great addition for us to have. And for any young hockey player to look at, he’s a constant professional."

Iginla is part of the Bruins' core group of leaders, even if that isn't designated with a patch over his heart. He wore the Captain's 'C' for 10 years in Calgary. The Black & Gold's leadership group goes far beyond those wearing the letters.

"He’s pretty quiet; he goes out there and leads by example," said Kelly. "We have enough guys that spew," he laughed, clearly in reference to the vocal ways of Bruins like himself.

"He just goes out and plays his game and plays hard and does everything extremely well. Not just one aspect of his game. He’s not just a scorer; he plays hard, he fights, he blocks shots. He’s out there last minute when we’re up by a goal or down by a goal. He’s one of the best all-around players of all time, I think."

Kelly was trying to wrap his head around it all.

"Just lucky to get to play with him."

"The guy's going to the Hall of Fame. He's such a big name in the hockey world and we're very fortunate to have him on our team," said Shawn Thornton. "He's been a bright spot in the room, and on the ice, all year."

Back on March 9, Iginla had reached his 15th 20-goal season. When he fired in No. 20 in the Bruins' 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers, it also marked goal No. 550 of his career. But, of course, as with most milestones, Iginla usually finds out about them from teammates, or reporters.

"Jordy [Jordan Caron] told me. I did hear guys were joking that Chief was six away, so pretty cool," Iginla had laughed. "It's honestly - you mostly don't think about [milestones]. You actually - I mostly try not to think about things like that or each shot and stuff but once I hit it, you know, today was 550 and I'm definitely thankful for it."

"It's been fun. You know, I think back to when I started - I didn't set out those type of goals or whatever. So it's cool, but honestly, just enjoying this and it's fun going against a team and winning."

Besides the shortened campaign of 2012-13, when Iginla potted a combined 14 goals, his last season with less than 20 goals came back in 1997-98, in only his second season in the League.

His consistency has bred milestone after milestone.

In fact, the consistent Iginla has missed just four out of 553 games dating back to the 2006-07 season.

The ironman had a brief scare in December, when he fought with Ryan Kesler in Vancouver and ended up with a dislocated finger. No worries, though, as Iginla had it put back into place and finished out the game.

"You want to be in every game; you want to play. We love to play. It’s fun, it’s fun to compete out there, and you want to be part of the team," Iginla said back in December.

"I think it speaks a lot about his commitment, also, to us, to the team," Patrice Bergeron had said of Iginla, battling through any pain to finish out the game. "And he wants to do whatever it takes to be out there and battle and try to help."

"He’s a true leader, a veteran, and that particular moment shows how tough he is, but also, how committed he is."

Iginla is one of only six Bruins to play in every game this season. Through 69 games, he put up a team-leading 26 goals and 30 assists for 56 points.

"He’s exactly what he was advertised as, as a good team player, a hard-worker, competitive guy, and, again, I can see why he had a letter in Calgary because he’s got that leadership quality in him," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said recently, when asked how what he had heard about Iginla compares to the player he knows now.

"As I've mentioned before, we have a lot of guys here that could easily wear that letter, but he’s part of our, what we call, our core group. When there are some decisions to be made between coaches and players, he’s part of that group, he's been around a long time. But he’s exactly what was advertised. There's been absolutely no surprises with him."

Not only has Iginla produced for the Black & Gold (and that production goes beyond the stats), but his linemates Milan Lucic and David Krejci have been about as consistent as they have ever been in their seven-season NHL careers.

Through 69 games, Lucic had 21 goals and 31 assists for 52 points, marking his fourth 20-goal season in the Spoked-B. Krejci, meanwhile, led Boston with 60 points off 16 goals and a team-leading 44 assists through 69 games.

"I told David that the other day, I said, 'this is as consistent as I’ve seen you since you’ve been here,' and that’s all part of growing as a player, maturity, understanding his role," said Julien. "At the same time he’s wearing a letter this year so he’s got some responsibilities, and Looch has come back this year and has played the way he finished last year."

"We can’t forget these are still young players, so there’s always room for them to grow and I think that’s what we’re all seeing here is growth in some of those players."

"But at the same time, you've got a guy, Jarome Iginla - for a guy whose been in the league this long, has a really done a great job in maintaining his conditioning - comes into practice and games and works hard, competes hard, all the time. So, those young guys don’t have an opportunity to do nothing more than try and follow his lead."

For a power forward like Iginla, he has played with a host of talented linemates and competitors, whether on the Flames, or internationally. A few he sites are Craig Conroy, Alex Tanguay and Mike Cammalleri.

"They're right up there," he said, not surprisingly, of Lucic and Krejci. "I'm very fortunate to get to play with them and you know, linemates, you never want to pick, because everybody brings something different and it's awesome to play with these guys - they're very competitive, they're very hungry."

"It's not just their skill level which is very high, but it's their compete level and their drive, and physicality. You know, Krech, his poise with the puck, his change of speed - they're fun to play with and they have a great chemistry, too, so I've been very fortunate to come this year and get to play with them right out of training camp, and every day, and kind of get a chance to work through some tough stuff, and we're going to still work at it - we don't feel like, 'oh, we've got it' but it's fun to play with them."

"They're very driven, they're very competitive and I definitely feel fortunate to get to play with them."

'Iggy' brings his own high compete level on a daily basis, and with one of the most positive attitudes I've ever witnessed.

Back in August, like Coach Julien, what we knew of Iginla was his countless accolades, his professionalism, and his leadership. We had heard stories and watched highlights, and followed a career, but we had yet to know the individual.

Along with our Bruins Digital Entertainment Network crew, I had the chance to travel out West to Kelowna, British Columbia, and visit him at his summer home to help introduce the newest Bruin to the Black & Gold faithful.

While there, he went through stickhandling and power skating drills, and ran through an intense sprints and weight-lifting workout with his younger brother, Stephen.

"There’s no off days with him," Stephen had said of Jarome. "He comes out every day without fail and goes 100 percent. It’s pretty impressive to watch."

"He’s definitely a competitor."

The 36-year-old signed a one-year deal with Boston on July 5, 2013, and before he even slipped on the Spoked-B, he was already a Bruin in his mind.

"I love the way they play," he had said. "I know, as you get older, you have people start thinking how much is left in the tank. I still feel great. I expect to play well. I expect to produce and be good for the Bruins and help contribute to a great regular season and be a contending team."

"Hopefully it’s one that works out and the team’s happy and my family and I love playing there and, hopefully, it can go longer."

Nine months later, Iginla is now just four weeks away from a postseason run.

"Nobody is complacent," Iginla said of his Bruins' squad that sits first in the Eastern Conference and is getting close to the top spot in the League. "Every day, we’re trying to come and stay focused, and the coaching staff, and Zee has got us focused. It’s game time, it’s ready to go. But it’s been a lot of fun, too."

This may be Zee's team, but there's no doubt that Iginla's leadership will continue to display itself down the stretch and into the playoffs.

This is the longtime Flames Captain whose last shot at the Stanley Cup ended just short 10 years ago in 2004, as he rested his stick on his knees and glided along the ice in Tampa, following Game 7, watching the Lightning celebrate his prize.

The lasting impression he made in Calgary was in full force when he had his homecoming at the Saddledome in December, to constant cheers from the crowd, "IGG-Y, IGG-Y" chants, and the extra laps around the ice that Zee made him take to give his faithful fans one last send-off. He is forever grateful for his time there, and every goal and accolade he accomplished there.

Iginla may have just hit game No. 1300, becoming just the 55th player to reach the milestone since the League first originated in 1917, but all of the milestones no longer really matter, no matter where they are achieved.

No one may know that better than Phoenix Coyotes Captain Shane Doan, the only other active player to suit up in 1,300 career games, and not have a Cup. Jaromir Jagr, Teemu Selanne and Ray Whitney have the milestones, and also the pinnacle.

Doan played in his 1300th game last Thursday in Boston. He and Iginla were born a year apart, and grew up three hours away from each other in Alberta. They both began their junior careers with the Kamloops Blazers, playing together from 1993-95.

"If I was Jarome, the accolades that you'd be getting, they're getting a little numerous, so it'd be easy for him to brush them aside," Doan had laughed pretty heartily. "He's had some amazing things happen, and what he's done."

"I think a big part of it is you recognize where you're at in your career, and you know that really not a lot is going to change before you're done, and really the only thing that matters is your team winning, and nothing else is really going to change your whole perception of what you've done - other than a Stanley Cup. That becomes such number 1, 2 and 3 on your list of important things in the arena."

It becomes about the team, and only the team.

"He's a good guy, eh?" added a smiling Doan.

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