Retired Iginla on playing in Calgary: 'It was a true honour'
Franchise leader in goals, points, games played spent 16 of 20 NHL seasons with Flames
Jarome Iginla stood at the podium — wearing a dark suit jacket and unbuttoned, white-collared shirt — and spoke about the "many great memories" of playing for the Calgary Flames, joking with ex-teammates and thanking everyone he could think of who played an important role in his 20 NHL seasons.
"It's very humbling to be here," the 41-year-old said Monday at his retirement news conference at the Saddledome. "It was a true honour to play here. This is home."
"I remember starting hockey at age seven, going to my first tryout and dreaming of how great it would be [to play in the NHL] and it's been even better."
The franchise leader in goals, points, games played and game-winning goals, Iginla quickly became a fan favourite following a 1995 trade from Dallas along with fellow forward Corey Millen for Joe Nieuwendyk.
He played 16 seasons in Calgary, scoring 525 goals and 1,095 points from 1996 to 2013.
During that time, Iginla set a culture, according to Flames CEO Ken King.
"You would just say, 'Just go talk to and follow Jarome' and understand how you'll act in the community, how you'll act on the ice, how you'll be as a teammate, and it just works," said King.
A six-time all-star, the six-foot-one, 210-pound Iginla was feared on the ice for his power, speed, skills, toughness and smarts. But the right-winger was also thankful, as an 18-year-old rookie, to have some of the tougher guys to play the game in his corner.
"Coming into the NHL at 18 can be intimidating," he said, "and there was more fighting and intensity than today. It was so nice to look down the bench and see Sandy McCarthy … and the way Brian McGrattan would lift a team with his great fights."
In 1,554 NHL regular-season games, Iginla scored 625 goals and 675 assists, for 1,300 points — 34th on the NHL's all-time list — and had 1,040 penalty minutes. He also played for Pittsburgh, Boston, Colorado and Los Angeles.
Flames assistant coach Martin Gelinas, who played with and against Iginla, said his former teammate had a gift of sharing the game with family, friends and fans by signing an autograph, visiting a school and doing charity work.
"That's what makes him the classiest person — on and off the ice, that I played with — and I'm grateful for that," Gelinas said.
Stanley Cup run
In 2004, Iginla guided Calgary to the Stanley Cup Final — his first season as captain —when it dropped a seven-game series to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He led all scorers that post-season with 22 points in 26 outings, including 13 goals.
"It was so special to me, the group of guys we had and their sense of humour," Iginla recalled of the march to the Cup Final. "We had so many great personalities and had so much fun together.
"It was the way the city was with us the whole way, with the Sea of Red in the stands and the Red Mile parties. It stung not winning, and it still does to be honest, but it was worth it."
Craig Conroy, who played nine seasons in Calgary with Iginla, called his ex-teammate a "true competitor" who always elevated his game when needed.
"If we needed a big fight, hit or goal, he was there to do it," Conroy, now the Flames assistant general manager, said of Iginla. "For about three or four years, I don't think there was a better player in the NHL. We had him in Calgary, and I think at times we did take him for granted.
NHL debut 'so surreal'
"I got a chance to play with some Hall of Famers but it was a true honour to play with him."
Iginla made his NHL debut in the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs, collecting a goal and an assist against the Chicago Blackhawks the day after his junior season ended with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League.
"It was so surreal," remembered Iginla. "I'm playing on a line with Theoren Fleury and German Titov, playing against [all-star defenceman Chris] Chelios in the corners, faceoffs against [Jeremy] Roenick, shooting on [goalie] Ed Belfour. It was almost like a video game."
Iginla went on to post a couple of 40- and 50-goal seasons while reaching the 30-goal mark 11 times.
Internationally, he will be remembered for his pass that set up Sidney Crosby's Olympic overtime winner in the gold-medal game against the U.S. in Vancouver in 2010.
A three-time Olympian, Iginla also won Olympic gold in 2002 and captured titles with Canada at the world championship (1997), World Cup (2004) and world junior championship (1996).
With files from The Canadian Press