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‘He’s determined’: Edmonton Oil Kings coach impressed by play of WHL prospect Joe Iginla

He’s only 15, but Joe Iginla — a hockey player with a last name synonymous with excellence in the sport — appears to have already gained some valuable insights about what it will likely take for him to excel in the game he’s passionate about.

“(My dad pushes) work ethic and determination,” Iginla recently told Global News as he began a stint with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League.

“(And my brother is) pushing me always. Never a day off in the household when he’s around.”

Iginla’s father Jarome is a former star forward in the National Hockey League and a Hockey Hall of Famer, while his brother Tij is impressing scouts with his play for the Kelowna Rockets in the WHL. And Iginla’s sister Jade is turning heads in the world of U.S. women’s college hockey with her play at Brown University.

Iginla recently wrapped up his latest stint with the Oil Kings. Because of his young age, rules dictate that he will not be eligible to join the WHL team full-time until next season. In the meantime, the native of Lake Country, B.C., is returning to his RINK Hockey Academy Kelowna team, coached by his father.

“I’m excited,” he said about being eligible to become a full-time WHL player next season. “Looking for another chance to get back at it.”

It’s widely expected Iginla will be on next season’s Oil Kings roster. About nine months ago, the goal-scoring forward was selected in the first round by the club at the WHL Prospects Draft.

“I’ve been very impressed,” Oil Kings head coach Luke Pierce said of Iginla’s recent play in Edmonton, where he has scored three goals and put up two assists in five games this season. “There’s a reason he’s as high a pick as he is and (he has) awesome pedigree obviously with his family.

“He’s an extremely competitive kid and you see it just in practice … And he brings a lot of personality to your room.”

Iginla said his recent games with the Oil Kings underscored that the WHL is “a lot faster” and a “lot more physical” than in the league he currently plays in.

“I’m playing against some pretty old guys in there,” he said. “It definitely helps you adjust.”

He said until the next WHL season begins he plans to work hard on improving his skating and also try to add more weight as he thinks that will give him a “big advantage in the corners.”

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But his recent success in a limited number of games at the WHL level has Iginla feeling confident.

“I know people now,” he explained. “It’s (now) a ‘been there done that’ kind of thing.”

Pierce laughed when he told Global News that it took Iginla only “about three shifts” to adjust to the WHL, despite the league’s up-tempo pace of play.

“He’s such a smart player (so) he’s not going to have a major issue there,” he said. “Just time to get some more strength and speed and little things like that.

“But he understands the game extremely well. which gives him a leg up.”

Oil Kings forward Gavin Hodnett told Global News that Iginla is “obviously a special player.”

“He thinks the game at a high level and that’s going to keep him successful,” Hodnett said.

“Skill-wise, unbelievable.”

Iginla’s father, who hails from St. Albert, Alta., and spent most of his professional hockey career with the Calgary Flames, scored 625 goals over the course of 1,554 games in the NHL. Like his father, the younger Iginla’s reputation as a hockey player is also already linked to his ability to put pucks in nets.

“He’s got a great shot,” Hodnett said. “He utilizes it well and gets it off quick.

“I think I’m a playmaker so, if I can find him, I think the puck’s going to go in the net.”

Iginla, who said he “really got into” hockey at about seven or eight years of age, said scoring was his “favourite thing to do growing up.”

“It used to be the only reason I played hockey — just to get goals,” he said with a wide smile emerging on his face. “It’s definitely my favourite part.”

Iginla said he works hard on his shot but that the biggest key to improving it over the years has been “just shooting at home every day.”

“He loves to score goals,” Pierce acknowledged. “He can shoot the puck really well, but I think his competitiveness is the biggest thing. And he’s hungry, he’s determined.

“But at the end of the day, he’s a goal-scorer and that’s certainly something we need, not just now, but moving forward in the future.”

When asked if his brother Tij has given him any advice specifically about playing in the WHL, Iginla said his sibling had the same advice he has given him throughout his time playing hockey.

“It’s kind of, ‘Good luck out there, keep working hard,’” he recalled. “No hidden secrets or anything.”

Iginla said being coached by his father in Kelowna has “got its perks” but “some negatives too,” noting his dad often sends him to the penalty box to serve the team’s time there when it takes a too many men on the ice call.

“(It) just kind of comes with the territory,” he said.

Iginla said while his father is mostly a laid-back coach, the competitiveness he was known for as a player becomes apparent on the bench when the team is struggling.

“He’s laid back until you start losing — he gets intense,” he said.

Having success in the same sport your parent thrived in could have the potential to create unnecessary pressure for some athletes. Hodnett noted that when it comes to hockey, “the last name Iginla — it’s a special last name,” but it does not seem to have any negative impact on Iginla.

“I think he handles it well,” Hodnett said of the Oil Kings prospect. “He’s just playing his own game.

“I think he obviously takes some stuff from his dad … (but) playing his game is going to be his success.”

Pierce noted that Iginla’s last name likely means “there’s a lot of pressure there,” especially because his siblings are also impressing in their hockey careers, but that can also help him.

“They know the sacrifice I think it takes to achieve excellence,” he said of Iginla’s family members. “I think he’s really well surrounded there and insulated from some of those pressures, and the family’s obviously done a tremendous job of setting them up for success.

“For Joe, I know that he wants to live up to that reputation, and there’s no question in my mind that he will.”

While Iginla is not eligible to play full-time with the Oil Kings this season, he would be eligible to play games with the WHL club once his current team in Kelowna ends its season.

–with files from Slav Kornik, Global News


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