CALGARY – Standing at the top of the circle from which he’d scored so many of his goals, Jarome Iginla looked up at the saddle-shaped roof with a glint in his eye.
There were no tears. It wasn’t that type of ceremony.
Although he played the game with a raw emotion no coach can teach, Iginla warned a day earlier he wasn’t the sentimental type.
With his 10 and 12-year-old sons (Joe and Tij), his 14-year-old daughter (Jade) and wife Kara by his side, they watched his no. 12 ascend to the rafters. The C of Red had risen several times earlier in the night to welcome the longtime captain back to the city in which he gave everything for 16 years. But the sustained roar that accompanied the finality of a highly-anticipated jersey retirement was a moment no one in attendance will forget.
Nor will they forget the parting words of a man who capped the 57-minute ceremony with a riot-inducing promise.
“We look forward to many, many cup runs ahead,” said the 500-goal man of a team that may be better now than he ever played on.
“Go Flames Go.”
Throughout the course of an evening that featured speeches from Iginla and his longtime pal and linemate Craig Conroy, several mentions of the Cup run Iginla orchestrated in conjunction with Miikka Kiprusoff in 2004 drew chants from the crowd, “It was in. It was in.”
The reference to the controversial non-goal “scored” by Martin Gelinas that wasn’t reviewed in Game 6 served as a reminder of how close the Olympic hero came to snaring the only title left in hockey he hadn’t won. It was a pursuit that took him from Calgary to Pittsburgh, Boston, Colorado and Los Angeles in his twilight years, serving as reminders of how hard it is to win hockey’s ultimate prize.
The thrust of his 15-minutue message revolved around contemplating the sadness he had to deal with the day he realized his career was over and he would never have that Stanley Cup ring he so cherished.
“As an athlete you push and push and try to be positive and always envision it will happen,” said the franchise’s all-time leading scorer in a speech peppered by chants of “Iggy, Iggy.”
“I believe you have to be that way in life and in hockey, so I’ll admit it bothered me a bit. But after taking some time to reflect on my career with my family and friends, and adding a dose of gratitude, I know I did win.
“And I’m not talking about the goal that didn’t count in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final that Gelly scored.
I won over and over again, every day for the 20 years I played in the NHL. I won all the days in minor hockey growing up in a program like St. Albert, then playing junior hockey in a great hockey place like Kamloops where I learned and grew so much.
“I won playing professionally in a first class organization the Calgary Flames that’s built upon family, community and leadership. At the end of the day to me a big part of life is about memories, friendships challenges and giving your all. I got to do all that in Calgary playing with the Flames, with the fans and my teammates. I did win.”
A classy affair run by a classy organization, the only thing missing from the evening seemed to be that one, sustained ovation that always seems to mark such occasions in Montreal or Edmonton. Fact is, this city hasn’t had much practice at such celebrations, which perhaps explains why $150 tickets were selling for over $1,000.
So anticipated was the affair, fans braved temperatures of minus-20 waiting to get in when the doors opened an hour before the ceremony.
The love-in was memorable and, at times, stirring. The current players watched from the bench wearing Iginla jerseys they’d later wear in warmup.
The star-studded list of Iginla’s former teammates brought onto the ice to start the proceedings included Mike Cammalleri, Mike Commodore, Andrew Ference, Jamie McLennan and Rhett Warrener, amongst others.
Conroy and Robyn Regehr were two of the three singled out by Iginla for their efforts, as well as Mikka Kiprusoff who hasn’t been seen in years.
Rebutting Conroy’s claim their first meeting was a frosty one, Iginla clarified.
“If there was any expression it was not anger, it was shock,” said Iginla, flashing the grin that always seemed to betray the beast persona he took on while playing. “The Flames just traded our leading goal scorer to get him and I just looked around behind him, who else is coming in the door?”
Iginla drew his opening standing ovation when introduced at the far end of the rink, walking the red carpet to centre ice past all the major trophies he won. Fist bumping with 15 young hockey players who’ve benefitted from the $800,000 he personally donated to KidSport Calgary while playing, he eventually sat next to his family, several Flames owners as well as Lanny McDonald and Mike Vernon – the only two men to be similarly feted as Flames.
It kicked off with Conroy’s speech.
“We’re here to pay tribute to one of the greatest Flames of all time – if not the greatest… sorry Lanny,” he smiled, recalling how the former scoring leader went from star to local legend in 2004.
“First the rafters – next stop, Toronto and the Hall of Fame.”
Legendary local broadcaster Peter Maher thanked Conroy for keeping the speech under an hour and then announced the Flames owners were making a $50,000 donation in Iginla’s name to KidSport. The three Iginla kids were then given gold pucks commemorating their father’s 16 years in Calgary. An artist was also introduced to do a live painting capturing the ceremony for the Iginla’s home.
A stirring video of his career, voiced over by McDonald, illustrated the brilliance and brawn of his career, setting the stage for Iginla’s speech.
“I really want to thank the Flames organization and ownership,” said Iginla, who now resides in Boston where he channels the intensity that led to 75 NHL fights into coaching his son’s hockey teams.
“It’s not lost on my family or on me to have my name up in the rafters. Thank you Lanny for doing (the video). It means a ton. I’ve been a huge fan and have so much respect for you.”
The feeling is mutual. The fans finally got to thank the 1000-point man for all he did for the team, the city and the country before a Hockey Night in Canada matchup that later saw the Flames lose to the Wild 4-2.
He reflected on a routine he had as a rookie of exploring every arena he arrived at, asking coaches Brad McCrimmon and Rich Preston about the names that hung from rafters in each city.
“I really appreciated those times and it’s really cool I can be part of that Flames tradition and be up there,” said the 41-year-old, two-time Olympic champion. “It’s very special.”