UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Unofficially, Jarome Iginla's first NHL goal came against Ed Belfour during Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals in 1996 against the Chicago Blackhawks. Iginla tallied the only Flames goal in a 2-1 three-overtime loss to the Blackhawks that ended the series in a sweep.
He played two games for Calgary in those playoffs. The following year, Iginla scored his official first NHL goal in the Flames' second game, on the way to a 21-goal, 50-point rookie campaign.
There have been 41 NHL players that have reached the 500-goal mark in their career, and Iginla is the next player in line for the feat as he sits on 498.
It's been a storied career for the 34-year-old Iginla. After being part of the trade that sent Joe Nieuwendyk to the Dallas Stars in 1995 — four months after he was drafted No. 11 overall -- Iginla developed into one of the NHL's best forwards: hitting the 50-goal mark twice, winning an Art Ross Trophy, the Maurice Richard Trophy twice, the Pearson award, earning a nomination for the Hart Trophy in 2002, and leading the Flames to within a win of the franchise's second Stanley Cup title in 2004.
Two goals away from being a member of a special club, we spoke with Iginla before the Flames fell to the New York Islanders, 3-1, on Thursday.
You're at 498 goals right now … are you looking to get this over with and just concentrate on the rest of the season?
It's kind of one of the things I've really tried not to think about much, but now I get closer it's probably a little harder not to think about it. But it's nice to have a good distraction. We just want to keep our roll going and our streak going as a team and climb in the standings.
Really, it hasn't been that tough, but I thought it would be tougher, but now that it's getting closer I'm kind of thinking about it a little bit more. But 499 you probably think about it more, but it hasn't really been a huge issue, but I'm definitely thankful that I'm close and I would love to get it, but I'm just going to keep trying to focus on playing.
Do you have a memorable or favorite goal of the 498?
Probably my first time I got 50 in Chicago. We had about three or four games left and I'm [at] 49 and also, you're thinking not to end at 49.
I'm friends with Rob Brown, and he got 49 one year, and we both grew in St. Albert in Alberta and I used to bug him when we were younger, "How do you get 49? It's too bad you didn't get to 50." So then I got a little worried, well not worried, but I'm thinking, "Geez, it might be the the way it goes", but fortunately that one went in and I wasn't stuck there.
Also probably the 50th in Vancouver.
They were already out of the playoffs and really trying not to let me get it. The guys were great. They'd tried to set me up everywhere, but they [Canucks] would just move over and block me, but [Eric] Nystrom made a great play probably with less than 10 minutes left in the third, so then I didn't end up at 49 again.
Have you had a chance to really reflect on your career to this point and all of your personal accomplishments so far?
Not really. I've really enjoyed it. I want to play for a while longer. I feel good. [I'm] definitely thankful for the opportunities. I've had some good seasons and some good things happen. Definitely still want to win a Stanley Cup. [I'm] just kind of enjoying each year.
Each year goes faster and faster, for sure. There's definitely some good memories in there that we reminisce with guys talking about old goals and stuff. Maybe one day when I'm done and look back more; and my sons and daughter, they're into hockey, so maybe reminisce a little bit with them, or bring some stuff up so maybe they'll listen to me a little bit when I'm trying to teach them to how to shoot or something.
What does it mean to you to hit 498 all with the same team. It's very rare in sports these days that a guy like you stays with the same franchise for so long.
I'm thankful for that opportunity. I feel I've grown up in Calgary. From 18-and-a-half, 19 on, I've been there for a lot of years, so it is home, but we want to win. Some people want you to stay because it's comfortable, but no, I want to win and we have a good team and fortunately now we're starting to play that way and climbing the standings, so I want to win there. I'm thankful for that, but I feel like there's still lots left to do.
Photo credit: Canadian Press