CALGARY — It was a nostalgic day at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Friday as Jarome Iginla returned to Calgary, ahead of his big night on Saturday when the Flames will retire his jersey.
In a ceremony that will begin 90 minutes prior to Calgary’s game against the Minnesota Wild, the Flames will raise No. 12 to the rafters, where it will hang beside Lanny McDonald’s No. 9 and Mike Vernon’s No. 30.
“It’s neat to be back,” said Iginla, 41, following a luncheon in his honour. “I will probably be a little emotional. I didn’t think I would be, but I probably will be. It’s very special and I have a lot of family and friends coming in and it means a lot.”
The longtime Flames captain announced his retirement last July after being unable to overcome hip surgery and catch on with an NHL team last season.
His 20th and final season in 2016-17 was split between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings. While he also spent time late in his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, it was his 16 seasons with the Flames where he made his name.
Iginla is the organization’s runaway leader in numerous categories including games (1,219), goals (525), points (1,095) and game-winning goals (83). His best season individually was 2001-02 when he won the Art Ross as the league’s leading scorer with 96 points (52 goals, 44 assists). That season, he was runner-up for the Hart Memorial Trophy as most valuable player, a feat he repeated in 2003-04.
Iginla never did win a Stanley Cup. The closest he came was in 2003-04 when the underdog Flames pulled off three-straight series upsets to reach the final, only to lose in seven games to the favoured Tampa Bay Lightning, who forced Game 7 by winning in overtime in Game 6 in Calgary.
“When I think back on it, you’re that close. One goal, you think of one shot, you think of the (Martin Gelinas) goal that didn’t count. You think of those types of things,” Iginla said. “Obviously in the storybook, it would have been in Game 6, here in overtime, but it didn’t happen.”
That 2004 post-season is one of his most fond memories.
“The energy around the building, it felt like it went up a ton,” said Iginla. “I loved the C of Red, but I also loved the Red Mile, I thought that was pretty wild how the city got into it.”
Part of what made that run so special was it came after missing the playoffs the previous seven years. The dry spell came right after Iginla’s first two NHL games in 1996, which both came in the post-season. That spring, he joined Calgary the day after his junior season ended and wearing No. 24, had a goal and an assist in Games 3 and 4 as the Flames were swept by Chicago.
Now, he’s back and preparing for a big night on Saturday.
“When I come into the building and not much has changed in the building. It feels like it was just yesterday. Everything goes so fast,” Iginla said.
He and his wife, Kara, reside now in Boston where their three kids — Jade, 14, Tij, 12, and Joe, 10 — all play hockey. His involvement in hockey currently revolves around co-coaching his sons’ teams.
“I’m probably a little bit more intense than I thought I’d be,” Iginla said with a chuckle. “But I’m really enjoying it and I’m learning on the job.”
He confessed he was recently kicked out of a game, but he had an explanation.
“What happened was I talked to the referee after and it was just a misunderstanding of what you’re able to get away with compared to what NHL referees will let you debate, and in minor hockey, you’re not supposed to say anything,” he said while smiling. “It only happened once and there were no swears, no cursing, I don’t even think I was yelling.”
Iginla is excited to be able to share his big day with his children.
“My kids are right in the heart of truly loving minor hockey and it’s really neat to come back so soon after (his retirement) and see so many familiar faces all the way around. It makes it that much more special.”