Iginla, Emery Looks To Lead Teams To Stanley Cup

By Warren Shaw III
Updated: October 13, 2007
MICHIGAN — Even before the 2007-08 NHL season began last week, several significant events had already taken place concerning players of African descent.

Goaltender Ray Emery of the Ottawa Senators made such an impact last year during the regular season and playoffs that he was awarded a three-year, $9.5 million contract.

Emery, considered one of the top goalies in the NHL, began playing hockey seriously at 17, which is late for Canadians. Despite his late start, Emery began to dominate the position and received rave notices for his aggressive play in junior hockey. He was the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Goaltender of the Year and was named a First-Team All-Star.

Emery, nicknamed “Razor”, has also proven to be more flamboyant than many of his peers. Emery drives expensive sports cars such as a Lamborghini, owns 12 watches and 50 pairs of shoes, as well as a $4,000 suit.

After being drafted into the pro ranks, Emery won the Goaltender of the Year Award in the Central Hockey League. He’s also gaining a reputation of standing his ground. During a stint in the American Hockey League (AHL), Emery got into a nasty altercation with a player who enraged him with a racial slur.

When Emery was finally called up to the NHL, he responded with a major-league performance and tied Hall of Fame goaltender Bernie Parent for the most wins in one month with 12.

Emery was a factor in helping the Senators to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. Although Ottawa lost in the Finals, many praised Emery’s performance and he is now regarded by hockey analysts as one of the next generation of “Great Canadian Goaltenders.”

“Without Emery we would not have made it to the finals”, said Senators team captain Daniel Alfedsson.

Jarome Iginla is no longer surprised or overwhelmed by the many accolades thrown his way. He has been a highly-touted star for several years and is considered the NHL’s biggest superstar of African descent.

Iginla has been a legitimate star since he was 16 years old playing junior hockey in Alberta, Canada, winning two Memorial Cups (junior hockey’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup). In the NHL, he has won the Art Ross Trophy (for leading the league in points) and twice he has won the Rocket Richard Trophy (for leading the league in goals scored).

In addition, he has won the Lester B. Pearson Trophy (awarded to the player voted as most valuable by his peers) and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy (for leadership on and off the ice).

Iginla recently signed a contract extension for $35 million. As captain of the Calgary Flames, he enjoys the prestige and admiration for his intensity and leadership on the ice and his articulate, classy representation off of it.

Under Iginla’s leadership, the Calgary Flames have been close to the Stanley Cup on several occasions, but have fallen short. However, the addition of Coach Mike Keenan and a few more skill players could improve Calgary’s chances in the new season.

“The Stanley Cup is our major goal,” Iginla said.

Akim Aliu isn’t a household name yet, but don’t be deceived. The 6-foot-3, 209-pound forward has all the tools to make an immediate impact in the NHL. Scouts rave about his ability to score, make plays and play a tough, “old school” game as his major strengths.

Born in Okene, Nigeria, Aliu was recently drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round (56th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft because of his immense potential. But it took 18 years and thousands of miles for him to don a Blackhawks jersey.

Although he was born in Nigeria, Aliu was raised in Ukraine, moved to Canada when he was 11, and then shuttled to Sudbury, Ontario, to play juniors a year ago.

He wants to become just the second Nigerian to play in the NHL. Rumun Ndur was the first Nigerian-born player to play in the NHL. He played sparingly for the Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers and Atlanta Thrashers from 1996 to 2000. (Iginla is half Nigerian, but was born in Canada).

Aliu, who trains in the summers with Columbus Blue Jackets All-Star Rick Nash, said people in his homeland of Nigeria “don’t even know what hockey is.”

A year ago, Aliu had 16 goals and seven assists with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves.

Despite his immense potential, Aliu has had his problems. Prior to being drafted by the Blackhawks, the big, tough forward was a first-round draft pick of the Windsor Spitfires (across from Detroit) of the OHL. After three months with Windsor, though, he was traded by the Spitfires to the Sudbury Wolves after having a disagreement with a Windsor teammate.

At Sudbury, Aliu had a run in with Sudbury GM/Coach Mike Foligno, which was eventually patched up. But he also was in several skirmishes that led to on-ice battles with opposing players. He recently was traded to the London Knights.

“Akim has great individual skill,” said Foligno, a former Detroit Red Wings star. “His speed is impressive.”

If Aliu can leave his troubles behind, he likely will join Emery and Iginla as premier players in the NHL.

“I think I can do a little bit of everything on the rink”, Aliu said.