Last night, Jarome Iginla visited the Scotiabank Saddledome as a member of the Los Angeles Kings. It was his seventh trip to the ‘Dome as a visitor and potentially his last-ever game in the building, given that he’s turning 40 this summer and isn’t quite what he used to be. Last night, he was very close to what he used to be.
His goal and assist gave him 269 goals and 575 points in 616 outings in Calgary’s home arena. In the interest of saluting easily the greatest player to pull on a red jersey with a “C” on it, we’ve collected some of our favourite memories of old #12.
I’m terribly biased, because one of the first NHLers I ever interviewed (back when I was doing stuff for BLAZE) was Iginla, who I asked about prospects and the impact of youngsters coming onto a veteran team. I was terrified and sheepishly ambled up after the “regular” reporters asked him questions and asked if I could grab one more. He flashed a big smile and replied “Sure! What’s your question?”
Another sign of Iginla’s classiness was during his fights. Wait, hear me out. Basically every season after the 2004 playoff run, aspiring goons kept stepping up to Iginla to try to make a name for themselves. He’d fight everybody regardless of stature, do his best not to embarrass the poor lads, and then give them a smile and a stick-tap to the shin pads afterwards.
I have a lot of Iginla memories, but there’s one that has kinda stuck with me for a long time. Despite the fact that it was a seemingly minor event in an otherwise unimportant game.
The Flames were on the road playing the Islanders in New York. I don’t remember which season this was now, but it was just as the league was starting to wake up to the fact that Iginla was a superstar. My memory was of Calgary on the powerplay, with Iginla set up on his off wing around the top of the circle.
Someone fed a pass into his wheelhouse and Iginla one-timed a bullet into the top corner past the hapless Isles netminder. The goal was so sudden and definitive that even the colour guy calling the game seemed taken aback. In going over the tally in slow motion afterward he said, simply, “That… that is an unstoppable shot.”
Unstoppable. After years of the Flames being a running joke – an also-ran, an easy win – the team had this burgeoning young sniper and other clubs and fans were starting to take notice. This guy is unstoppable.
And I guess that’s why that play has always stuck with me. It’s a perfect microcosm of Iginla’s offensive prowess, his impact on the team, and how he helped changed the perception of the Flames around the league.
Jarome Iginla took over the mantle of my sports hero from Joe Sakic in the 2001-02 season, a season where everyone learned how much of an offensive force he could be. He deserved that Hart trophy and I’ll fist fight everyone who tells me otherwise. It wasn’t just the first 50-goal season of his career, but in 2002 Iggy arrived on the Olympic stage. That entire season is what I’ll hold close to my heart until I’m a bitter old man. It was everything and so much more for a scrawny little kid in northern British Columbia watching this juggernaut of a human run through opponents, rifle home pristine one-timers, and be overwhelmed by that smile of his.
It’s a privilege for those who grew up in his prime in Calgary and were able to witness it live on the regular. Unfortunately I didn’t, but I feel like it helped shape and appreciate him a little more.
The first time I got to see him live – and my first ever Flames game in Calgary – was his return with Boston, with my girlfriend at the time. I don’t remember what I paid for those tickets, but I’d do it again and then some to relive that night. I cried, people next to me cried, and Rachel [the girlfriend] was probably confused by how overcome I was with being in the same building as him. I felt like a kid again sitting in front of the TV watching him as a Flame.
These last few years haven’t been kind to Iginla and he’s definitely lost a step in his game. Last night though I still felt this incredible sensation of nostalgia even if he played in a jersey that doesn’t make sense to me. I’ll always look at him with rose tinted glasses because he means as much as Wayne Gretzky or Mark Messier does to an Oilers fan.
Growing up with the Flames was pretty much only growing up with Iggy. Until he was traded away, there were only 88 days of my life where Iggy was not a Flame.
There isn’t much to remember about some of those Flames teams besides Iginla. If any other Flame got close to the level he was on, they either left for greener pastures or were randomly swapped out for another spare part. There was absolutely no replacing Jarome though. He was the face of the franchise. Who really gave a shit about anyone else on the team? Pretty much every piece of merchandise, even the team produced ones, prominently featured Iginla because there was no guarantees that anyone else would be here the next year (I would know because I owned it all).
And it wasn’t that Iginla was just a hometown hero. He ripped up the league. With a supporting cast of vagabonds, retirees, once promising kids, and goons, Iginla scored a hell of a lot of goals in an era where it was nearly impossible to score goals. If there was one reason to tune in to Flames games, it was that you could guarantee Iginla would score the goal and drag the team to victory.
The one particular memory that sums this up and the one that stands out to me was the last time I saw him live against Nashville in 2011. There was a whole lot to not like about that season. The team had quite clearly fallen behind in the Western Conference. The roster was a collection of old, broken pieces that were just good enough to cling to playoff life by their fingernails. On this March night, I don’t recall anything spectacular happening besides what happens in the video below.
I didn’t have this stat in the back of my head when it happened, so when the PA announced it, it was somehow still a shock. At an advanced hockey age, he hit 30 goals for the 10th time in his career. It was vintage Iginla. I felt that somehow, if anyone could do it, it would be Iginla dragging this team kicking and screaming into the playoffs for one more go. He was always the only one who could do that. Just ask the Kings about last night’s game.
Jarome Iginla was someone who always gave it his all, and it was hard to find a player who did so more emphatically.
The 2010-11 season was an agonizing disaster. The Flames were just one season removed from a playoff berth, even if they weren’t exactly doing a whole lot with those then. But still, it was Iginla who led the narrative back in 2004: “Just make it in, and anything can happen.” The problem being the team was asking a 33-year-old Iginla to put his team on his back the same way they asked a 26-year-old.
At the same time, though, that season was genuinely fun. It wasn’t helpful in the long term – the Flames just missed because they were too far behind, delaying the rebuild for another few seasons – but the game that got them back into it was amazing.
A number of things stand out to me from that season: Jamie Benn bloodying him in a fight, only for Iginla to wail on him for a solid minute afterwards. His absurd chemistry with Alex Tanguay, which was my absolute favourite thing about the Flames back in those days, and the way they complemented each other so perfectly. (In that same game, Iginla was the one who chipped it up to Tanguay for the game-tying goal that kicked off a mini-resurgence for the Flames as they made some noise to potentially get back in the playoffs.) An early April game, in which Daymond Langkow made his return over a year after his devastating spinal cord injury and over the course of just a couple of periods had played his way up from the fourth line to Iginla and Tanguay’s line – and then Tanguay sprung him for a breakaway for his 1,000th career point, a perfect shot that was the most Iggy thing there ever was.
I think his teammates stand out to me because that was pretty much the best Iggy ever had to work with – not bad players in their own rights, but Iginla stood out so much that it wasn’t even a contest as to who was the best player. I think that season stands out to me because from that Dallas game onwards, there was so much fight, and it was the closest thing we got to seeing Iginla play playoff hockey for Calgary one last time, even as they fell just short.
I’m rambling, so one last note from me: there was also March 24, 2013, when Calgary and St. Louis were tied 2-2, before Iginla got sent on a break, and muscled the puck into the Blues’ net for what would be the game winner. It was his final goal as a Flame, and you could just feel it when it happened – and it was like, if this is it, that’s not a bad way to go out.