My first introduction to Jarome Iginla wasn’t while viewing a Flames at the Saddledome, it wasn’t standing in line for his autograph, or playing a video game.
It was while watching the first hockey game that I can vividly remember, Canada against the United States for gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Now a footnote in Iginla’s storied career, the Edmonton power forward netted a pair of goals against the Americans to help Canada win their first Olympic gold in men’s hockey in 50 years.
From the moment I saw that gold medal being draped around his neck, I was hooked not only on the sport, but my new favourite player as well.
Little did I know that my Olympic hero also played for my hometown team, leading the NHL in scoring that year with 52 goals and 96 points with Calgary to win the Art Ross Trophy.
Like many kids in the Calgary area at the time, I wore the flaming ‘C’ to school most days imagining myself stepping onto the ice alongside Iginla and playing for the Stanley Cup.
Jarome Iginla is the reason I even picked up a stick in the first place. At a young age there weren’t too many players with a similar background to me. I’ve idolized him my entire life and wish I could have stepped on the ice with him. Best of luck Iggy!
— Tyrell Goulbourne (@Tgillz12) July 25, 2018
But like most dreams, it seemed too outlandish to envision Iginla and the underdog Flames ever having a shot at the biggest prize in hockey. All that changed in the spring of 2004.
Led by their captain, the Flames captured the hearts of fans across Canada in their run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, ultimately falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
That run sent the city into a frenzy, with classic Iginla moments like ‘The Shift’ in Game 5 against the Lightning or his out of nowhere tilt with fellow Tampa Bay star Vincent Lecavalier.
What I remember however, was watching a triple-overtime bout against the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round and marvelling at how hard Iginla worked even in his sixth period of hockey.
Because it wasn’t his goal scoring prowess or rough and tumble attitude that endeared himself to most Flames fans, it was his ability to make everyone around him better and his humbleness on and off the ice.
While incredibly skilled, Iginla was never the fastest skater, never had the hardest shot, and was very rarely the biggest player on the ice.
But, it was his determination to beat his opponents through sheer will alone is what was most impressive, all while doing it with a giant grin on his face.
In 2011 Jarome Iginla joined us on a trip to Afghanistan to visit Canadian troops. He took an overnight flight to Athens, and then another overnight flight with us to Kandahar. He played ball hockey, posed for pictures and signed autographs for hours, never asking for a rest.
— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) July 25, 2018
In a sport where the game evolves into a business at the highest level, it’s easy for many players to treat hitting the ice every night as part of the day-to-day grind.
That’s what separated Iginla from the rest of his peers and why he was so beloved in Calgary, he genuinely seemed excited and grateful everyday to be living the dream of so many Canadians.
And while it’s a small chapter in the history of Iginla’s two decade-long NHL career, the moment I always revisit to Calgary’s final game of the 2007-08 season against the Canucks.
It also happened to be Canucks great Trevor Linden’s final game before retiring after 19 seasons in the league and was greeted to a standing ovation from the Vancouver faithful after a 7-1 loss.
Led by Iginla, a handful of Flames skated over to Linden to shake his hand after the game and congratulate their longtime adversary on a storied career.
Eventually, the rest of the Calgary players followed their captain’s example and exited the dressing room to do the same.
That’s not to mention the hundreds of thousands he’s raised for charities in the Calgary region over the years, winning the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Award, NHL Foundation Player Award, and Mark Messier Leadership Award.
— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) July 25, 2018
Even after he was traded from the Flames in 2013, every time Iginla returned to the Saddledome he was treated like royalty and the adopted son the city had been longing for.
That included his nasty fight against Deryk Engelland in his final trip to Calgary a little over a year ago with the Los Angeles Kings, proving he still could throw knuckles with the best of them.
That’s why it would only be right for the 41-year-old to retire as a member of the Flames on Monday, giving the club and it’s fans a chance to honour arguably the greatest player in franchise history.
Although he never brought home a Stanley Cup, the numbers are more than good enough to secure his spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame someday.
Over 1,500 games played, 625 goals, 1,300 points, two Olympic gold medals, and a pair of Rocket Richard trophies ain’t a bad resume to go out on.
Iginla’s legacy is about as solid as it gets, with his name screamed by Sidney Crosby in overtime against the United States at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics etched in hockey lore.
Everything in my life hockey-wise can be traced back to a single player, a single person who embodied all that I love about this sport.
Heart, tenacity, passion, leadership, humbleness, and an unbridled, childlike passion surrounding the game.
It’s hard to see this chapter officially come to a close in the coming days, but it’s comforting knowing how many lives he touched both directly and indirectly over the last 20 years.
Thanks for everything Jarome.