“I think you try and block out all the noise and just try and focus on your game,” Iginla said. “Obviously I was recovering from an injury. So I've been working on that, working on getting back.”
After earning an assist when Canada beat Slovakia 7-0 in the quarter-final, the 174-cm, 64-kg attacker potted the opening goal with a rising shot in the 2-1 semi-final win over Finland that set up Monday’s gold-medal clash with the defending champion Americans. It was Iginla’s first international goal.
To get a real sense of Iginla’s game, the testimonials of her coaches and teammates speak even louder than the numbers.
“It's amazing,” said Canadian head coach Howie Draper. “The young lady must have a tremendously high pain threshold, just given the circumstances. But yeah, she's great. She plays a gritty game. She likes handling the puck. She likes having it on her stick. She does good things with it. She plays the game like a hound dog.”
That combination of grit and skill gave Iginla a team-leading 18 goals in 22 games with Rink Hockey Academy (RHA) Kelowna this season.
The British Columbia-based U18 team has been well-represented on this year’s Canadian squad. Brooke Disher has led the group to the final with the “C” on her jersey, while fellow RHA defender Sara Swiderski was named one of Canada’s top three players (as selected by the coaches) along with Jocelyn Amos (London Devilettes) and Sarah MacEachern (Etobicoke Dolphins).
Even when Iginla was out of the lineup, the Brown University commit has been visible around LaBahn Arena, supporting her teammates during the ups and downs of the journey to the final. Her appreciation of the chance to compete here after the 2021 tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns shines through.
Iginla praised Disher and Swiderski: “It's awesome to see your teammates from home have such success. To come into this together and work through, it's awesome to have the two of them.”
Iginla’s performance is also exciting for her other Canadian teammates, like Madison Chantler (London Devilettes), who got the winner against Finland: “She deserves it so much. It was hard to see her out, for the team and for her especially. But then she came back and she came back stronger than ever.”
A newcomer to Hockey Canada, Iginla made a big impression both when Team BC won the western regional U18 championships in November and when she suited up at Hockey Canada’s pre-tournament selection camp.
“At her regional competition playing for Team BC, she was a standout,” said Draper. “She was all over the ice. She was playing the game at a very high tempo, playing a tough game, the kind of game that I think any hockey coach would really value. When she came into camp, she brought the same thing. I think that spoke not only to her skill set, but also to her ability and inner confidence to bring it at the next level when it's best on best and show that she can do it there too. So you pair that confidence with that kind of ability, good things are gonna happen.”
With a surname like Iginla, it’s impossible not to talk about her famous father. Jarome Iginla had a storied 1,554-game NHL career that included leading the league in goals in both 2002 and 2004. Yet the now-retired power forward, 44, is arguably even more legendary in IIHF circles as a leading contributor in Canada’s 2002 and 2010 Olympic gold medal runs, not to mention his 1996 World Junior gold medal and 1997 IIHF World Championship gold medal.
Asked what advice her father gives her before a big game, Jade Iginla said: “It's just usually two things: work hard and have fun.”
The Iginla family is in Madison to cheer her on, including Jarome and her hockey-playing brothers Tig and Joe. Decked out in red Team Canada gear, they’re easy to spot in the stands. Their enthusiasm is palpable.
“It's great to have them here,” Iginla said with a smile. “They're super into it. And you know, they're jumping up and down, cheering no matter what. So yeah, it's awesome to have them here and be so excited about it, like me!”
At the same time, Iginla brings a big-game calm that evokes the way her father came to play. That’s something else that’s impressed the Hockey Canada braintrust. It’s important in a tournament where young players are learning the ropes.
“She is the most level-headed young lady that I think I've had the opportunity to work with,” Draper said. “There's no tremendous highs and no tremendous lows, emotionally. She's just always there. Even when she got hurt, she just seemed to kind of weather that storm and seem to get through it. I think maybe that's helped her kind of get through it. She's just a contributor no matter where she is, no matter what the role is.”
Canada has grown a lot as a team since dropping a 2-0 decision on Day One to Finland, its first loss to the Nordic nation in U18 Women’s Worlds history. With Iginla in the lineup, the Canadians’ odds of avenging their unprecedented 7-0 group-stage loss to the U.S. increase considerably.
Canada has won five gold medals all-time but settled for silver at the last tournament in Bratislava in 2020, falling 2-1 in overtime to the Americans in the final.
What will be the key to victory in Monday’s hotly anticipated gold medal game? According to Iginla, it’s straightforward: “I think we stick to our game plan, try and carry the momentum that we built these last two games, and just try and show up and play.”