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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla to practice with Dalmeny U15 Sabres

From puck drop in the fall, the 2023-24 season has been all about community for the Dalmeny U15 Sabres.

Between handing out holiday hampers and carolling during the Christmas season and hosting a charity hockey tournament with proceeds being donated to the Ben Stelter Foundation, it’s been a year of giving back for the Sabres.

“I feel like it’s a good thing to do,” U15 Sabres forward Walker Sperling said. “It makes everybody feel good and it’s nice seeing the reactions on people’s faces.”

Little did players know, however, of a push to have that generosity recognized, which is coming to fruition in the small Saskatchewan community of just under 1,800 residents months later.

Spearheaded by team manager Christine Woodland, the Sabres were nominated for the second annual Dr. Oetker’s Giuseppe Practice with a Pro contest, which focuses on rewarding one minor hockey team in Western Canada for its good deeds completed throughout the season.

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Learning they were chosen as the winning team in February, head coach Chris Gates gathered the team around to share the unexpected news.

“We had a team meeting and they had no idea what it was about,” Gates said. “We just talked about let’s remind them what it is to be a good Sabre and who would be a good Sabre?”

“Well, Jarome Iginla, the hardest-working guy around in hockey.”

What followed was a recorded video message from Iginla himself, letting the Sabres know they had been selected as the 2024 winners and that he’d be visiting the community to practice with the team.

“I was sitting down low in my chair and we heard,” U15 Sabres captain Dylan Gates said. “I sat up and I didn’t really recall it that fast. Then I was like, ‘Jarome Iginla is coming to Dalmeny, it’s going to be awesome.’”

Click to play video: 'Saskatoon AAA Blazers celebrating back-to-back Saskatchewan male U18 titles'

Saskatoon AAA Blazers celebrating back-to-back Saskatchewan male U18 titles

Iginla’s resume is one of the most decorated in hockey as he’s tied with Joe Sakic for 16th in NHL history in career goals, with 625 tallies in 1,554 career games, while also winning a pair of gold medals at the 2002 and 2010 Olympics, the latter of which was highlighted by a famous assist on Sidney Crosby’s overtime clincher.

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The highest-scoring player in Calgary Flames history, Iginla captained the team from 2003 to 2013 and led the Flames to within one victory of the Stanley Cup in 2004.

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In the weeks since the announcement, the U15 Sabres have been eagerly awaiting Iginla’s arrival and will see him walk through the doors of the Dalmeny Arena on Saturday.

“The whole team is just pumped,” Dylan said. “I’m excited mostly because Jarome Iginla wore number 12 when he was a captain and this last year I was (number) 12 and I was the captain, so I’m excited to meet him.”

After visiting the Bow Valley Flames just outside of Calgary last year, this will be Iginla’s first time visiting a team out of Saskatchewan as part of the Practice with a Pro event.

He added that he was especially impressed by the way the Sabres helped out those in the community without expecting anything in return.

“It was being good teammates to each other, but also being involved in the community and trying to do good things,” Iginla said. “The Dalmeny Sabres U15 team had a great year and did some amazing things. I also liked that they were nominated without knowing that they were nominated. They were doing it because they’re just trying to be a good team and good citizens.”

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To accommodate the visit, the Town of Dalmeny has kept the ice in at the arena so that players like Sperling can get one last chance to sharpen their skates with a Hockey Hall of Famer.

“It means a lot for me and the town,” Sperling said. “It’s just a cool thing for a small town like us to have someone as big as Jarome Iginla to come into our town, skate with us and to be able to sign autographs.”

While Iginla confirmed it won’t be the most high-intensity practice he’s ever conducted, there is still going to be the competitive drive from the Sabres to impress.

“Hopefully I’ll be able to skate as fast as him,” Dylan said. “It’s just going to be awesome.”

Even though he became one of the most recognizable players in the NHL over his 20 years of professional hockey, Iginla noted that these types of visits transport him back to his days before making the Western Hockey League, loading up the bus to drive hours for tournament action against other determined teenagers.

“Playing in the NHL was so much fun and you get to travel to see New York City and play at Madison Square Garden and stuff like that,” Iginla said. “But some of my best memories are literally going to a tournament in Saskatchewan, playing literally in Saskatoon. They had a big novice tournament, I think, when I was younger, my friendships and running around the hotel trying to calm down and prepare for a semifinal game.”

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According to the Sabres’ bench boss, the buzz around Iginla’s visit has been gradually picking up steam and he is expecting a large turnout from Dalmeny residents and those from outside the community wanting to get a glimpse of the Flames icon.

“It’s something I think everyone has become aware of,” Chris said. “It puts a really nice light on our community and our hockey association, so that kind of stuff is special for sure.”

Iginla added he’s looking forward to the community connections through hockey and the questions those Sabres players will have for him, whatever the topic they have on their minds may be.

“I’ll ask the kids questions about their seasons and if they have any questions for me,” Iginla said. “Some are more serious questions about what it takes to try to make it, some are just, ‘How was it playing with Sidney Crosby?’ It’s pretty cool, it’s a fun day and I’m looking forward to it.”

The visit to Dalmeny will begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday, with Iginla taking to the ice with the U15 Sabres at 1:15 p.m., which will be followed by a pizza party and community celebration at the arena until 5:30 p.m.

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