IGGY MEANT TO BE A FLAME

The Province - - SPORTS | HOCKEY - WES GILBERTSON

All these years and all those goals later, Jarome Iginla still won­ders if he was per­haps docked a few eval­u­a­tion marks be­cause of the jer­sey that he was (even­tu­ally) wear­ing.

Re­mem­ber, he was raised in Oil Coun­try.

“When I tried out for that first team at age seven, I was put in the worst league. I wasn’t very good when I started,” Iginla ad­mit­ted dur­ing Mon­day’s re­tire­ment party at the Sad­dle­dome, a fit­ting farewell for the Cal­gary Flames fran­chise icon.

“But when I did go to try­outs, just to give you an idea, the cards were stacked against me. My grandpa took me to my first try­out and we didn’t know that there was no jer­sey, no socks. So ev­ery­one has their out­fits, they’re good play­ers, they’ve been play­ing for years.

“My first time, I’m skat­ing around with no jer­sey, no socks. My grandpa had to run and get me a jer­sey from the sports store in St. Al­bert, while I was out there wheel­ing around. He brought back one, and I wasn’t that thrilled to get it — it was a Cal­gary Flames jer­sey. I don’t know if was the last one left at the time.

“So I think not wear­ing a jer­sey to start and the Flames jer­sey af­ter, it worked against me and I ended up in the worst league.”

He ended up, of course, as the best to ever wear that Flam­ing C logo.

As the fran­chise record-holder in sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant cat­e­gories, among them goals (525) and points (1,095) and games played (1,219).

As the long­est-serv­ing cap­tain in Cal­gary’s club his­tory.

As the favouritest of the fan­favourites and the al­ways-smil­ing face of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

For 16 sea­sons, be­fore he was traded to the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins on that wacky Wednes­day in March of 2013, it seemed al­most im­pos­si­ble to pic­ture Iginla in any other crest.

That’s why it was so fit­ting that he re­turned Mon­day — af­ter twirls with the Pen­guins, Bos­ton Bru­ins, Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings and af­ter fail­ing to find a job last win­ter once he’d re­cov­ered from hip surgery — to make his re­tire­ment of­fi­cial.

As team pres­i­dent Ken King put it: “Wel­come home, kid.”

Echoed Martin Geli­nas, who was work­ing as Iginla’s line­mate when he be­came ‘The Elim­i­na­tor’ in the spring of 2004: “I bleed red, and I’m so ex­cited that you’re re­tir­ing as a Flame.” That was, no doubt, the con­sen­sus. The­o­ren Fleury, an­other fran­chise all-timer, was among the past team­mates there to con­grat­u­late ‘Iggy’ on his ter­rific ca­reer.

Although it was closed event, a few dozen fans were hang­ing around out­side the Sad­dle­dome, hop­ing for an

au­to­graph or a selfie.

One was ap­par­ently will­ing to stay a while. He brought a lawn-chair.

“I’m thank­ful for the times, from 35 on, that I played else­where, too. It was good for me and good for my fam­ily,” said Iginla, who has set­tled with his fam­ily — wife Kara, daugh­ter Jade and sons Tij and Joe — in Bos­ton. “But I’m thrilled to be able to come back and not be like I just took off and that was the end. Be­cause this is home. Al­berta is home.

“I’m re­ally thrilled that I got to do this to­day and rem­i­nisce with fans and say thank you to the fans and to the city and not just go qui­etly the other way.”

This will not be the fi­nal thank you, ei­ther.

Some won­dered if Mon­day’s send­off would be paired with an an­nounce­ment that the team would re­tire Iginla’s No. 12 or at least raise those dig­its to the rafters as part of their

For­ever a Flame pro­gram.

“We don’t want to pre-empt our­selves on the hon­ours that will fol­low,” King said dur­ing his own speech. “But based on to­day, I think I can safely tell you that we’re think­ing about a 41-game salute, Jarome.

“So we’ll see you later this year.”

ICE CHIPS

The Flames fin­ished some busi­ness be­fore Mon­day’s cer­e­mony, avoid­ing ar­bi­tra­tion by re-sign­ing Gar­net Hath­away to a one-year, one-way deal. The 26-year-old right winger will earn US$850,000 dur­ing the up­com­ing cam­paign. Hath­away logged 59 ap­pear­ances for the Flames last win­ter, chip­ping in with four goals and nine as­sists. He also fin­ished sec­ond on the team with 154 hits and dropped his mitts for six fights.

— GETTY IM­AGES FILES

A baby-faced Jarome Iginla from 1996.

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