Respectfully, but it has always been Jarome Iginla.
Some personal context: I was born in 1991. I missed all of the Flames’ glory years by sheer virtue of not existing. By the time I was sentient, there was nothing left to pay attention to – until 2004 creeped along, and suddenly, the local team I only knew as “that hockey team we have that always loses” became relevant on a mass, city-wide scale, primarily thanks to two men: an incredible goaltender, and the best power forward in a generation.
One of the clearest memories I have from that time is walking into my Grade 7 math class for the afternoon, hearing my classmates by the door talking about just how good Iginla was, and thinking, “Yeah.” This would have been early in round two. By the end of round two, my dad managed to snag tickets on Ticketmaster – Game 6 against Detroit, second level. The first specific hockey game I can remember going to (I’d been to plenty of others before, but I’d never be able to identify an individual box score to you). And so much of it was possible thanks to, well, this one guy.
A player as revered off the ice as he was on it. Someone who embodied the entire epitome that is hockey – tough, graceful, bloody and violent and skilled and majestic – and has both the stats and accolades from teammate and foe alike to back up how much the man was the quintessential hockey player. How he near-singlehandedly led a ragtag group to the ultimate championship and played a pivotal role in getting that on the international stage not just once, but twice. How he was both the kind of player and person who was just respected, no matter where your fandom was, because he was Jarome Iginla.
And how he was one of the few non-white players to be able to get this. Hockey is a rich sport, it’s a predominantly white sport, and – as a white person myself – something I’ll never fully get, but can completely understand and empathize with. How someone took ahold of the game, someone who looked completely different from most of the other people playing it, and essentially said, “Me. I’m the best one on the ice.” And he was.
For years, he was Calgary’s guy. Even after he left, he was Calgary’s guy.
Tonight, we’ll see him be granted an honour so rarely bestowed by this franchise, and one few deserve more than him, if any at all. It will take place before the current iteration of the team – one more talented than he ever got to play with, but one he absolutely deserved to lead at some point in his phenomenal career – continues to seek out a Western Conference title – something they will, in all likelihood, get. It’s a glorious look to the future of this team, one we’ve waited for for so long, but at the same time, it’s bittersweet: imagine Jarome Iginla with this level of talent backing him up.
When he set his mind to it, he was already unstoppable. This would have been something else all together.
Fifteen years after leading his team to as close a championship as he would ever get, it’s Iggy’s night. The only other thing I can hope to come from it – other than two points; other than being one further step towards a meaningful season for this franchise; other than, you know, a Cup, at some point, something he more than deserved to lift while wearing skates and a captain’s C – is that a present-day Flames player looks at the sheer outpouring of love that is to come, that has already come every time he returned – even as the enemy – and thinks to himself, “Wow. I want that to be me some day.”
Calgary doesn’t have much compared to other sports cities. But when you prove yourself – as an athlete, as a leader, as a person – we will follow you to the very end and beyond.
It’s impossible to distill such a storied career into a few single moments, but here are some of our favourites. Please share your own below.
Ari: The golden assist. To get a little more personal: the 2010 Olympics came around the time I had to establish to a group of men in my internet friend group at the time that yes, I was a girl, but I was just as serious a sports fan as them (if not more so). When Canada won gold, they assumed I was especially elated because Sidney Crosby had scored the winner – at the time he was the obvious go-to for female casual fans: talented, perceived as conventionally cute, and with the big name – and not that there’s anything wrong with that particular kind of fan, but it wasn’t me. I had to make it extremely clear, in no uncertain terms, that I was especially elated because of the man who had the primary assist on that goal. And in what a quintessential Iggy way, too: power forward using everything in him to move the puck to his teammate and completely catch the goalie off guard. There are garbage assists out there; this was not one of them. And it was Jarome Iginla who did it. Without Iginla, no Olympic golds; not in 2002 and especially not in 2010, which had heightened drama. Without Calgary’s guy, they don’t happen. Without the Flames’ guy, Canada isn’t celebrating. Our guy. Nobody else’s.
There are the handful of players who are bigger than the game itself, and Iggy was always one of them. Calgary is a team that can’t seem to get respect on the national stage – case in point, they are currently second overall in the league and uh, where’s the coverage, the acknowledgment – but Iginla could always force people to pay attention, and at no bigger moment than the Olympics. Yes, you’re happy that Canada won, but it’s that much better when the player you’re watching 82 times a year – you, not every other Canadian fan – is the one responsible.
It’s weird to lay that kind of claim on someone, but I don’t think there’s another city that can embrace an athlete as fervently as Calgary did Iginla. We’re a city with one major professional sports team. And for a period of time, one in which the team only had one truly star skater, one who embodied everything that simply is hockey, and did it all at the highest level: someone who could take the perilousness of gliding across ice with speed and strength, who could lay out opponents with a crushing hit and take the puck from them, who could pound someone into submission with blood in their eyes (or in his own, on rare occasions – it didn’t matter, he would win), who could move the puck and most importantly rip it for himself, an iconic shot, leg kick, from the faceoff circle, goalie not knowing what just ripped past him as the puck briefly distorted the netting as it went in. He was absolutely everything you could ever want out of a hockey player – that’s why in his prime he was able to near-singlehandedly bring a ragtag group to within a goal of the Stanley Cup – and he’d prove it on the international stage, too. Even as he tried out four other NHL teams, one thing was always obvious, as it was whether he wore a flaming C or a red maple leaf: this was Calgary’s guy, no other fanbase would appreciate him nearly as much, and this was universally understood.
Nothing embodies that more to me than the golden assist: something many could and would appreciate, but that only one group of fans ever really, truly get, hold that much stronger a connection to, could appreciate it all the more both because it was special – it led to Olympic gold on home ice – and because it wasn’t – because that’s the kind of play a Flames fan could always expect from him. The routine became extraordinary, and very few will ever be able to match him in that – and we’re the ones who got to watch it night in, night out.
Ryan: I’m going to cheat and have two.
First, I’m gonna go with The Shift. Game 5 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. Overtime. Iginla in all his glory: mucking around behind the net, stealing pucks, laying hits, and eventually making a deft pass to Oleg Saprykin for the game-winner to send the Flames home with a chance to win a Stanley Cup. It was quite simply Iginla at the peak of his powers, the best player in the world at the time showcasing all the things that made him great in one 60-ish second drive of excellence.
Second, my minor hockey team was at Theo Fleury’s last game with the Flames in 1999. Craig Conroy had a hat trick for St. Louis. After the game, we went down to try to get autographs and I had a flag I was trying to get the team to sign. Iginla was one of the first players out to sign, noticed my flag, and made sure that every other player came by to sign it. No word of a lie, he went player to player to point me out so everyone signed it. Imagine how many young fans he did that for.
Mike: It’s hard to decide on a moment – really it’s difficult. There are just so many quintessential Jarome moments to choose from. I think I’ll go with his return to the ‘Dome for the first time. I didn’t get a chance to grow up near Calgary, to see games in Calgary, or experience him regularly. My experience, with Jarome, was from a distance. I watched him grow up, become who we all admired, and idolized on TV.
The first time I could afford to see the Flames, I picked a Battle of Alberta… the year he got traded. So I missed out on seeing him until his return with the Bruins. My girlfriend at the time (a Bruins fan) was excited to come with, but she wasn’t ready for the emotional outpouring of feelings that came during warmups, during intros, during the entire game.
It was cathartic and both unbelievable – that this man, someone I hold in the echelon of my parents, was in the same building as me. On the ice, only a few hundred feet away. Playing for a team that wasn’t the Flames. It was a lot to take in.
I cried for a bulk of the game (the guys beside me, a father and son, similarly did the same). When he did his final skate and then the second lap, it was a flood of emotion. It was an emotionally exhausting and necessary part of being a fan – the need to say goodbye to the heroes of your favourite team. No one is ever ready and we all act differently; some throw snakes and pretend like they don’t need them. Others like me will weep openly at their idol returning to be honoured.
Christian Roatis: After he scored his 50th goal of the season against the Vancouver Canucks in game 82 of the 2007-08 season, he had the entire team shake Trevor Linden’s hand. It was Linden’s final NHL game, and it just struck me, at age 12, as the classiest thing I’ve ever seen. It made me proud to be a Calgary Flames fan. It’s hard to describe being proud of someone you’ve never met, especially given I was so young, but the thought of “that’s my captain” just sticks in my head.
It’s a bit of a weird one, but that’s definitely my favourite Iggy moment. He always made sure things were done the right way. The consummate leader and professional.
Bill: My favourite moment was one where Iginla was on the ice, but not exactly playing hockey. It was what happened before and after Iginla’s return to the Saddledome. I was in Edmonton for school at the time, but I remember tuning in and there was an electric feeling in the atmosphere, despite being 300 kilometres away in Calgary’s biggest rival’s city. There was such an immense amount of pride, excitement, and many more overwhelming emotions as the Flames prepared to welcome the Bruins.
Everyone stopped what they were doing just to watch, and Iginla’s return was as perfect as anyone could have hoped for. Prior to the puck drop, watching the broadcast, it just felt like the entire C of Red was frozen in a moment they did not want to let go. From his first lap during warmups when he had the ice to himself, to the thunderous ovations and “Iggy” chants that seemed to go on and on (and on) during and after his tribute video, to the awestruck look when the camera panned to Milan Lucic as he could barely fathom the impact that Iginla has on the city of Calgary.
Despite not getting onto the scoresheet, Iginla was selected as the third star of the game. His laps around the ‘Dome captured the perfect moment. Seeing his Bruins teammates refusing to leave as they cheered from the bench and Zdeno Chara egging him on to take a second lap as the applause showed no signs of quieting down; it felt all too magical. It was as if the crowd collectively sent every ounce of energy they had into their long-time captain’s pursuit of the Cup, and that night, as Iginla skated off into the opposing locker room, it truly felt like there was nothing that was going to stop him.
Karim: Mine is a two-parter. But first, I think it’s important to note that Iginla’s hockey career was very unique in the sense that he wasn’t just a hometown favourite and the standout player on a series of very mediocre teams. Iginla was more than a Flame, more than a great goal scorer, and more than a captain. In my life, through my experiences with the sport, Iginla was the number one role model for minorities in hockey, for how a leader should act, and how you should carry yourself day to day. He was so much more than just the captain of the local hockey team.
Iginla’s fight with Lecavalier in the 2004 playoff run stands out to me as one of the most iconic Iggy moments ever. That run was very much the reason why I became a fan of hockey in the first place, and seeing Iginla put the entire team on his back and will them into the finals was something special. He fought in every series, but in that last one with the Lightning, it was Iginla’s fight that made me truly believe that the Cup was coming home.
I have to choose the same moment as Ari for my favourite Iggy moment, the golden assist. It’s truly tragic how overlooked that play is even today. I fully agree that no other fanbase appreciates or recognizes how important that pass was in the history of hockey in this country. The rest of the world might look at Crosby as the hero of the Olympics, but Iginla was the real hero in my eyes. That play was personally special because in 2010, he had already accumulated most of the awards and trophies he was going to in his career. His NHL success was well-documented and well-recognized, but it was that play that I could point to and say look, my captain just won the country a gold medal on home ice. It was magical. And as Gord Miller screamed “Sidney Crosby” at the top of his lungs, I was standing on my couch hugging my dad screaming Iginla’s name at the top of my lungs. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.
Ramina: Honestly there are so many memories to choose from, anyone who knows me knows I’ve been an Iginla fan for as long as I can remember. But I’m following suit and also saying the golden assist. It was, first of all, an iconic moment, and second of all it was one of the few games my entire family was together for. We had everyone over at our house that day watching that game and when it happened as we’re all screaming my dad right away yells, “IGINLA MADE THAT PLAY!” and then we all started cheering because it was Iginla and I guess we were all proud of it. But that’s definitely one of the biggest on-ice moments for me about it.
I do have another favourite off-ice moment for Iginla too though, and it was his ESPN interview I think about 15 years ago. He was talking about how important representation is and talking about how he had kids tell him all the time that he wouldn’t be a successful player because he’s black and he would tell them, “Look at Grant Fuhr winning those Cups!” Now there’s a whole other generation of young black kids or children of colour saying, “Look how successful Iginla was!” I just wonder that, if Fuhr never played the game, would Iginla have chosen baseball over hockey? The fact that one man could have altered that and altered this entire franchise, basically. It’s insane to think about and it goes to show how important representation is, especially in a predominantly white sport, and it shows just how much bigger than the game he really is.
Tonight, you can find us in da ‘Dome, chillin’ with Jarome.