Jarome Iginla’s last game as a member of the Flames was technically sitting out as as a healthy scratch last season, on the night he was ultimately traded. Because there were deals in the works, Iginla was told to stay home. He didn’t even get to come to the rink.
For 16 years, Iginla was the future, then face of the franchise here. And just like that, he was gone.
Tuesday night, the fans finally had the chance to thank him.They thanked him for his hard work on the ice and his class off it, his charitable work in the community and his tireless effort to make sure every fan seeking his autograph left with one — whether he was late for a bus on the road or reaching through his car window leaving a practice on a frigid winter day.
It was one of those kind of nights on Tuesday, with streets lined with ice and snow making it difficult for Calgary fans to get to the Saddledome early enough to watch their former captain take the warm-up. Those who did started the celebration early with a little chanting.
It would build during the brief but respectful pre-game tribute that saw Iginla take the ceremonial puck drop against new Flames captain Mark Giordano before a minute-long video was played on the big screen.
Iginla watched while leaning on the dasher in front of the Bruins bench, his eyes darting from the screen, to the Sea of Red, and back to the screen. It was almost as if he was getting bashful, humbled about the appreciation to follow. On their feet for nearly two minutes, hollering, chanting, clapping and screaming for their hero who now wears unfamiliar colours, the fans might have gone longer if not for the speakers interrupting the ovation to steer the evening back in the direction of the game.
Iginla soaked it all in, raising his stick in the spotlight — a couple of times — to thank them for their loyalty when it was his own that made him such a popular player right to the end of his lengthy tenure.
“It was definitely emotional. I really appreciated the gesture,” Iginla said afterward. “The fans were into it and they made me feel good. It did make me feel good. You see some signs, ‘I miss you,’ and different No. 12 jerseys. It felt special. It was very flattering.”
His mom, dad, sister and friends from Calgary and Edmonton were cheering him on in the stands, drenched in Bruins gear and grinning from ear to ear the whole time.
His wife and kids stayed back because of school. Plus, says Iginla, he has plans to be back before his career is over.
“It’s not like I’m retiring or whatever,” he says with a laugh. “It was nice to have my mom here, my dad here and my sister came down.
“It was more than I could hope for. I really enjoyed it all.”
From the time he landed in Calgary and the Bruins tweeted a picture of him coming down the stairs from the plane, Iginla was a rock star. Cameras followed him everywhere. He spoke on Monday, Tuesday morning and Tuesday night right up until the media relations staff had to cut off questions. Always the willing participant, he shook a few hands and said he’d see some of the reporters next week when the Flames visit Boston for a rematch.
It was almost as if he never really left.
And when he was named — charitably, honourably — the game’s third star to give him another opportunity to hit the ice in front of the Flames faithful who stuck around after a 2-1 loss just for one last glimpse, it probably felt like that to Iginla, too.
“It did feel a little surreal,” he said of house announcer Beesley calling his name. “You heard it over the years so many times. It definitely brought back a lot of great memories. “
His Bruins teammates created one more, coming back out to the bench to make sure Iginla took in every last second of the admiration. He took a quick twirl before heading back out for a bigger loop, and then another for good measure.
“It was pretty forced,” Iginla laughs. “The guys were great. Z (Zdeno Chara) and all the guys came out and wouldn’t let me off the ice. I went for one little loop and they were like, ‘No, no, you gotta go one more.’ They made me go one more, too.
“It was fun. The fans probably wanted me off the ice then, too.”
Probably not. Although most would agree his departure was best for the Flames’ future, there’s a part of them that has to admit the night brought with it a small taste of nostalgia as well as some closure.
As for the game, Iginla Watch consisted of few highlights: The statline read no points, 21:36 of ice time. Four shots. A pair of hits. With nerves kicking in early, he missed on a blast from the point on the team’s first powerplay; fumbled a decent scoring chance in tight in the first period. There were no chances to see how the crowd would have reacted to him scoring, which nearly came to fruition in the third period on the powerplay.
“It was close, eh?” Iginla says of the slapper that somehow stayed out. “It went off the bar or whatever, deflected off something and went off the post.”
Seconds later, David Krejci deflected a point shot past Reto Berra to tie the game at 1-1, and rookie Reilly Smith scored the winner less than two minutes later to earn the prize Iginla offered to the game’s hero. He has shared a lot of things with the media this week. He wouldn’t share what those winnings were.
“That was pretty special,” he says with a grin. “Those things are private.”
He would, however, share how meaningful the win was. It was a perfect way to finish his special night.
“You want to win that first one back at home and we were able to do that,” Iginla says, running out of steam. “Third-period comebacks are always fun, especially in an already memorable game for myself. It was a nice ending.”
Maybe not for the hometown fans. But at least they finally got to say goodbye.