Calgary Flames\' Jarome Iginla fires the puck on March 1, 2011, in St. Louis. Iginla is on the verge of joining a select group of NHL players who have scored 30 goals in a season 10 times. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Tom Gannam
CALGARY - Of all the career milestones Jarome Iginla has reached and will reach in his hockey career, his first 30-goal season remains stamped in his memory.
He was 23 and had come agonizingly close to that mark his previous two season at 28 and 29 goals respectively.
With four games to go in the regular season on April 7, 2001, Iginla made sure he didn't fall short again and scored twice in Chicago to reach No. 30. He scored another goal for good measure his next game at home against Phoenix.
"I was really excited to get 30 the first time," Iginla recalled Friday. "I can remember the goal from my first 30. I'm pretty sure it was a backhand from (Marc) Savard to get my first 30. I was on the left post in Chicago anyway."
The Flames captain scored at least 30 every season after that and was on the verge of doing it again Friday, which puts him in select company. Only nine other NHL players in history have compiled 10 seasons of at least 30 goals.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't think that was kind of neat," Iginla said. "It's something when I started I couldn't have imagined. It goes so fast. It's not something I've been thinking about, trying to get there."
Mike Gartner, Jaromir Jagr, Gordie Howe, Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Hull, Phil Esposito, Brett Hull and Mats Sundin are the others who scored 300 or more goals over 10 seasons. Gartner has the record for the most 30-goal seasons at 17. Gartner and Jagr jointly own the record for most consecutive seasons at 15.
All those men are in the Hockey Hall of Fame except Jagr, who is a shoo-in to join them in the future. At 33, Iginla is building an impressive body of work that will also garner the Hall's consideration, but what's intriguing about Iginla's numbers is that the right-winger's career is far from finished.
Heading into Friday's game against Columbus, Iginla was two away from a season 30, needed six goals to crack the NHL's all-time top 50 scorers and was 16 points from a career 1,000, all as a Calgary Flame.
The Edmonton native has a pair of 50-goal seasons on his resume, but in arguing which statistic carries more weight, scoring at a minimum of 30 goals in 10 straight seasons is a mark of durability and consistency few players claim.
Iginla is a powerful skater who relishes physical contact and possesses a lethal one-timer.
"He's a great physical athlete. That's been a key to his success," linemate Alex Tanguay said. "He's so gifted physically. He skates well. We all know about the skill level he has, but to be able to be successful year after year shows the type of athlete he is. It's certainly fun to watch."
Iginla has weathered his share of scoring droughts and dry spells, plus the inevitable questions and trade-rumours that accompany them.
One distressing period for him was last season's conclusion, when Iginla scored just five goals in his last 18 games after the Olympic Games, including none in his final 11 as the Flames missed the playoffs. Another stretch was one goal in 11 games early this season.
But Iginla always seems to find his groove again, including a recent run of five goals and five assists in eight games heading into Friday's tilt.
"There's been dry spells in there, pretty much every year," Iginla acknowledged. "You don't want to be too hard on yourself when you hit a post or you miss by an inch.
"You try to stay positive and think the tide is going to turn. I've been very fortunate that for the most part it has."