Honoring Jarome Iginla, the First African American NHL Captain

Kevin Sethre, staff writer

The month of October marks 17 years since National Hockey League player Jarome Iginla became the first African American player named captain of an NHL team. 

Over his prolific twenty-year NHL career, Jarome Iginla scored 525 goals and recorded 570 assists. He made four All Star game appearances, won various other individuals awards, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2020 in his first year of eligibility.

Iginla never won a championship and still contributed to the NHL in important ways. He became the first Black player to lead the league in goals and points in a season when he scored 52 goals and recorded a total of 96 points during the 2001-02 season. During that season, he became the first Black man to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics in 2002, when he led Canada to its first hockey gold medal in 50 years, according to The Undefeated. On Oct. 9, 2003, he became the first Black player to wear the captain’s “C” on his jersey when his Calgary Flames opened the season on the road against the Vancouver Canucks.

Drafted 11th overall by the Dallas Stars in the first round of the 1995 NHL Draft, he was traded to Calgary on Dec. 19, 1995, where he would spend 16 seasons. He made his debut on April 21, 1996 in the third game of a first-round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Flames lost the game 7-5 and were eventually swept two nights later, he got his first career assist when he set up a goal for Theoren Fleury early in the third period.

Over his first seven full seasons he improved his goal and point totals nearly every season. The Flames, however, struggled to get back to the playoffs and didn’t make it back until the 2003-04 season, Iginla’s first as captain. In their first-round series against the Canucks, Iginla led the team with five goals and three assists as the Flames advanced in seven games. In the winner-take-all seventh game, he scored both of the Flames’ goals in regulation and recorded the primary assist for Martin Gelina’s game-winning goal in overtime. He played a smaller role in the team’s six game victory against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals, scoring only one goal to go with three assists. However, he assisted in another game-winning goal for Martin Gelinas in the series-clinching game six.

Iginla once again played a critical role when the Flames beat the San Jose Sharks in six games in the Western Conference Finals to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, leading the team with four goals and adding a primary assist on Steve Montador’s game-winning goal in overtime of game one. Despite Iginla leading the team with three goals and recording a total of five points, The Flames fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final.

After the 2004-05 season was lost to a lockout, Iginla led the team to the playoffs for each of the next four seasons. Unfortunately, they never advanced past the first round. The team started declining in the early 2010s, and Iginla was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the middle of the 2012-13 season. Over the next four seasons he bounced around, spending time with the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, and Los Angeles Kings. 

Iginla is only the fourth Black player to be inducted into the hall of fame and only the second one to be selected for on-ice accomplishments, according to USA Today. The other three are Angela James, who was a pioneer for women’s hockey, Willie O’Ree, who broke the league’s racial barrier in 1958, and Grant Fuhr, who played 19 NHL seasons, made two All Star teams, and won four Stanley Cups.

Iginla made a lasting impact on the sport of hockey in numerous ways. He was a captain who won the Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award in the 2008-09 season. He holds the Calgary Flames franchise all-time goals and points records and has played more games for the team than anybody else in history. He was a pioneer for Black hockey players in a sport that is dominated by white people.