Kovacevic: Iginla, Morrow crave chance at Cup above all
Their hearts tell them they should be homesick. But their hockey sense says something else entirely.
Jarome Iginla was a fixture in Calgary since 1996, captain since 2003, franchise record-holder across the board and civic treasure from his arrival until however long that flaming “C” burns. He was as gritty as he was gifted, as committed to his craft as to the community.
Upon Iginla's trade to the Penguins last month, the Calgary Herald's editorial board penned the following on a page usually reserved for war, politics and other serious stuff: “If anyone has truly earned a shot at the Stanley Cup, it's Jarome Iginla. Good luck in Pittsburgh, Iggy. We'll cheer for you all the way.”
Iginla reached one Cup final with the Flames, in 2004. He lost to the Lightning.
Brenden Morrow was a fixture in Dallas since 1999, captain since 2007, franchise record-holder in penalty minutes and second in goals. Gritty, gifted, committed, community-minded … all that, too.
Upon Morrow's trade to the Penguins last month, a Texas-based blogger for SB Nation wrote: “What did the Stars get from Brenden Morrow? Everything.”
Morrow reached one Cup final with the Stars, in 2000. He lost to the Devils.
Don't overthink this.
And don't dare call them rentals.
Sure, they've been uprooted, they're far from home and family, and their contracts expire this summer. There is, indeed, a possibility their stays will be short.
But I'll tell you this after some quality time with both men over the past week: Neither sees this as anything less than a lifetime commitment.
Meaning the chance of a lifetime.
“Brenden and I know that, however we got here, we're here now for one reason,” Iginla was telling me the other day at Consol Energy Center. “We're here to win the Cup.”
The only real company Iginla and Morrow keep away from the rink is each other, staying in the same Downtown hotel, frequenting the same Market Square eateries, even daring to navigate our convoluted roads.
“Everybody's so nice here,” Morrow was saying. “There's this street called Smithfield, right? And we're driving down a bus lane without knowing it. Had no idea. And everybody was very nice in letting us know about that.”
“I think they were being nice, anyway.”
Iginla likes us, too. Mario Lemieux made sure of that with a stop at his locker stall the other morning to ask how Pittsburgh's treating him.
“It's a nice city,” Iginla said. “Really is.”
But it isn't home. Can't be without those who mean the most.
Iginla's wife, Kara, and their three children — daughter Jade, sons Tij and Joe — were vacationing in Hawaii at the time of his trade. The family is now back in Calgary, where they'll remain until the school year is complete.
Morrow left behind his wife, Anne-Marie, and their three children — Bryelle, Brody and Mallory — in Dallas. The family is still there because of school.
The only connections now are via Facetime on everyone's iPhones and, of course, that the kids can tune in on TV. Easier than ever, really.
“They don't have to stay up way past bedtime to see my games now,” Iginla said of the two-hour Mountain Time difference.
The families, according to both, have been good sports. In a wonderful tale Morrow tells, Bryelle, his eldest at 8, climbed into bed with her mother upon sensing some sadness and offered: “Mom, it'll be OK. It's only a couple months, and he has a chance to win the Cup.”
That's how the fathers see it, too. For now, all else can wait. Family and friends will stay true. Old teammates and coaches will keep in touch. Even ongoing charity endeavors — both were at the forefront of kids' causes in Calgary and Dallas — can be handled by their agents.
The final horn in hockey waits for no one. Iginla is 35, Morrow 34. This might not be the last shot they'll get, but it's hard to imagine it won't be the best. And be sure they know it.
“There's just so much talent here, chemistry … everything,” Iginla said. “What I wanted was to play for the Cup, and I can't think of a better place to be. It's got such a great feel to it.”
“You know, what's maybe made the biggest impression on me is how no one talks about the next game being big. The way I'm used to, we'd circle the next opponent and talk about why it's important. Here … you prepare, obviously, but the mentality is that it's just another game you're supposed to win. That's neat.”
“It's just … it's about winning, man,” Morrow said. “There's the talent to win, the expectation … just the whole feel.”
That feeling for Morrow came another way.
“One thing you won't see is a practice and then guys just get up and go right after. That's true a lot of places, but here … these guys will hang around all day. They'll talk, play games, whatever, but they want to be here. It's like a bunch of kids. Makes it fun, really does.”
Here's what's struck me: Iginla and Morrow no longer are their team's stars, nor the go-to scorers, nor captains or even alternates. And they genuinely are embracing that.
Makes sense, too. Imagine the energy both expended in being responsible for every team scoring slump or any lousy collective effort.
“I took pride in wearing the ‘C' for a lot of years, so yeah, it's different now. You just play the game,” Iginla said. “I'm not going to say it was hard. I enjoyed it. But this is different. In here, you've got Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, you've got leadership that was already here, you've got a system ... All I'm trying to do is play my best. That's easy.”
Morrow was more blunt.
“Anytime you lose or don't make the playoffs like we were in Dallas, there's an added weight. You feel it. You're the captain, and you kind of wear that,” he said. “Here … it's Sid's team, but everyone's also accountable to each other.”
“Man, when I got here, I just didn't want to be the guy who screwed things up.”
Both look more comfortable on the ice. That should surprise no one. Too much talent. Too much toughness.
It's helped that Dan Bylsma has placed Iginla back into a familiar spot on the power play as trigger man from the left circle, sometimes at the left point, where he was brilliant Saturday in Boston and scored the decisive goal in the Penguins' 3-2 victory. It's also helped that Iginla's teammates have urged him to stop being such a swell guy and let 'er rip more often.
“I was a little lost out there for a while, I won't lie,” Iginla said. “But the more I've gotten used to the system, the less I'm thinking and the more I'm just reacting.”
“Yeah, and shooting.”
The goal Saturday was his third since the trade, all on the power play, to go with four assists in his nine games.
Morrow has been the Penguins' top performer of late, mostly by being himself. He's crashing the net, crushing opponents, warning the Lightning's goaltender he's about to eat his own blocker and, in the headline act this week, shouting to the Canadiens' reviled P.K. Subban from one penalty box to the other: “You've got five minutes to think about what I'm going to do to you!”
He's anything but the player the Stars had relegated to the fourth line, and not just for the five goals and four assists in 11 games.
“I know I can still play,” Morrow said. “It's great to get the chance.”
The chance is the thing. No matter what topic I'd raise with these gentlemen, they'd keep swinging it back to the chance.
Want to fully grasp why?
Couple of weeks ago in Tampa, the Lightning scoreboard was showing highlights from that 2004 Cup final, including a clip of Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier famously scrapping. It isn't easy to wipe the smile off Iginla's face, but he stayed transfixed, expressionless, until it ended.
His Flames lost that series, I'll remind.
“Yeah, I saw it,” was all Iginla would say when I asked about that video. “Saw the whole thing.”
Still no smile.
Don't overthink it.