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Calgary Flames winger Jarome Iginla was born July 1st, 1977, in Edmonton, Canada. Known primarily for his dominant physical presence and his potent offense, Iginla became the first black hockey player to win the Lester B. Pearson Award (MVP as selected by the NHLPA), the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy (for the most goals), and the Art Ross Trophy (for the most points). As of October 2003, he is also the first black man to have been appointed captain of an NHL team.

Raised in the Edmonton suburb of St. Albert, Iginla's mother, Susan, worked as a massage therapist, while his father Adekunle (later legally changed to Elvis, because Canadians had a hard time pronouncing his Nigerian name) worked as a lawyer. They separated amicably two years after young Jarome was born, but his father retained an active role in his upbringing.

Early on Jarome seemed destined for a career in music. His grandmother had been a music teacher while his mother had once held a job delivering musical telegrams, and Jarome was no slouch himself, often singing solos at local music festivals. It was Jarome's grandfather, Rick, who first introduced him to sports and encouraged him to pursue a career in athletics.

Jarome's first love was baseball, but by age 6 he was hooked by hockey, and joined his first league at age 8. His interest in hockey was heightened as Jarome witnessed the success of the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s, who won four Stanley Cups, and whose roster included the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, and Grant Fuhr. Iginla particularly admired Fuhr's style of play and decided that he would also like to become a goaltender. As a relatively slow skater, Iginla preferred to stay in net like his idol Fuhr, and as a result spent his first two years in minor hockey manning the crease.

Later, Iginla would switch to the forward position after noticing that he had a natural ability to score goals. In his first season playing right wing, Iginla led all midget players in Alberta in scoring. At 10 years old, Iginla joined a team organised by Bill Comrie (father of future Oilers Paul and Mike Comrie), where he played forward. The team was originally intended to represent only the Edmonton area, but during Iginla's five year tenure, it was so successful that it eventually came to represent all of Northern Alberta.

At age 16, Iginla moved on to the Western Hockey League, where he developed his skills as a member of the Kamloops Blazers. After using the regular season to adjust to the new style of play, Iginla exploded in the post-season, leading his team to victory at the WHL Championship. The following year, Iginla used his strength and natural instincts to lead the Blazers to another championship, with his 33 goals and 38 assists. Jarome also won the George Parsons Trophy given to the player with the best sportsmanship.

At the 1995 NHL Entry Draft, Iginla was selected 11th overall by the Dallas Stars. After signing with the Stars, Iginla returned to Kamloops for the season, but was notified that he had been traded almost immediately afterward. Due to Dallas's glut of young talent, Iginla had been traded (along with Corey Millen) to the Calgary Flames, in exchange for the veteran Joe Nieuwendyk. If Jarome was at all upset he didn't show it, however, and he went on to lead Canada to a gold medal at the 1996 World Junior Championships in Boston, later returning to Kamloops and posting a 63 goal and 73 assist season.

As a rookie for the Flames in 1996-1997, Iginla scored 21 goals and had 29 assists, and was the lone bright spot for Calgary all season. Theo Fleury had a terrible season and surrendered his captaincy, while Czech forward Robert Reichel scored only 16 goals (down from over 40) before being traded to New York with 12 games remaining. This resulted in Calgary missing the playoffs for only the second time since 1979. Calgary would also miss the playoffs again the following year, while Iginla watched from the sidelines with a broken bone in his right hand.

The next season, in response to sharp criticism from his coach Brian Sutter, Iginla began a conditioning program in an attempt to increase his fitness. In reward for his efforts, Iginla was placed on the team's top line with Fleury and Jeff Shantz. Despite Iginla's 28 goals and 23 assists, the Flames missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

Iginla hit the gym again the next summer, working to improve his speed, which had long been his Achilles heel. While he started slowly in 1999-2000, Jarome eventually found his game (in one stellar streak, he notched 16 points in 16 consecutive games.) Although Iginla finished with 29 goals and 34 assists, the Flames missed the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

The following season started off well for Jarome, as he was named alternate captain by his new coach, Don Hay. Unfortunately, Iginla injured his knee the very next day, and was unable to play to his full potential. His season ended for good after Iginla cracked a bone in his hand during a punch to Dallas' Brendan Morrow. Still, it was his best season yet, with 31 goals and 41 assists. Unfortunately, the hand injury required surgery, which resulted in Iginla having to miss the 2001 World Hockey Championships in Germany.

2001-2002 was a breakout season for Jarome, who scored 52 goals and had 96 points in the regular season. It was also the first time that Iginla found himself surrounded by decent players, such as new additions Roman Turek, Bob Boughner, Rob Niedermayer, Scott Nichol, and Dean McAmmond. He was also selected as a reserve for the NHL All-Star Game, as well as being personally selected by Wayne Gretzky to join the Canadian Men's Hockey Team at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Skating on a line with Joe Sakic and Simon Gagne, Iginla scored two goals in Team Canada's 5-2 gold medal victory over the United States, and was later named the third star of the game behind Sakic and Martin Brodeur. The lone disappointment for Iginla in 2001-2002 was that the Flames missed the playoffs yet again, after injuries ruined the second half of their season.

The Flames missed the post-season again in 2002-2003, although Iginla again led his team in scoring (35 goals, 33 assists). While Iginla decided to remain in Calgary after becoming a free agent in 2002, his need to win may eventually overtake his desire to finish what he's started with the Flames. As one of the league's hardest workers, most potent scorers, and best overall players, he certainly deserves to make it into the post-season. It's safe to say that wherever his career takes him, Iginla will definitely be a star.


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