Thousands of dedicated Calgary Flames fans will pack the Scotiabank Saddledome this weekend for one last chance to salute a legend.
The club will retire former captain Jarome Iginla’s No. 12 on Saturday during what promises to be an emotional ceremony, ahead of the team’s tilt against the Minnesota Wild.
“It’s humbling, a huge honour, a thrill and to be honest, a little bit surreal,” Iginla said in a news release. “I am extremely grateful to the Flames ownership and organization for bestowing this tribute on me and my family.”
“I’m looking forward to it but I don’t know what to expect or how I’ll handle my emotions. I’m obviously very excited but I think now that my kids are really into hockey and the NHL that it’s going to be so neat to share it with my family. To have them there, and friends, alumni and of course with the fans will really make the day special.”
WATCH: ‘You always feel like you want to be playing’: Iginla on retirement
Iginla announced his retirement from the NHL at a news conference in Calgary on July 30, 2018. Prior to that, the Edmonton-born player had led a 20-season career.
Drafted 11th overall by the Dallas Stars in 1995, Iginla was acquired by the Flames in a trade in December of that year.
While with the Flames, Iginla had 525 goals, 570 assists and 1,095 points in 1,219 games. Then, after nearly 16 seasons, Iginla was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March 2013. He then finished his career with stops in Boston, Colorado and Los Angeles.
WATCH: Former voice of the Calgary Flames Peter Maher joins Jordan Witzel to reflect on Jarome Iginla’s career.
Speaking to media on Friday ahead of Saturday night’s ceremony, Iginla looked back on several highlights of his career, including playing in the World Juniors, the Olympic Games, the many Stanley Cup runs and even winning three championships while playing minor hockey in Alberta.
“Honestly, I don’t think I have one thing,” Iginla said. “I have been thinking about different things that are really cool and mean a lot to me and really, it’s the whole game of hockey that I’ve been involved in since I was a little kid.”
He said he has mixed emotions about the jersey retirement, adding that he’s happy to have his family, parents and siblings there for the ceremony.
He said finally leaving the game as a player after 20 years is bittersweet.
“You always feel like you want to be playing,” Iginla said. “It is a very unique job. It’s such a great job. It’s a big game, we’re big kids, you get to play and have fun, and you’re not excited to be done.
“I’m enjoying being home and I’m happy for the things I get to see and everything. But when I was done playing, you feel like you can still mix that in. You could in a perfect world, but it was time.”
WATCH: Jarome Iginla looks back at his memories of the 2004 run to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Calgary Flames.
Former teammate and Calgary Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy told Global News Saturday will be an “emotional night.”
“Jarome still has a huge, huge, presence here and to have him come back when he’s still so fresh in their memory, it’s going to be great,” he said.
“Calgary is his home. Even though he might not live here anymore, this is where he grew up. This is where his kids grew up.”
A role model both on and off the ice, Conroy said everywhere the team went, Iginla would always take time to greet fans.
“He’d sign one thing for everybody, talk to everybody. Used to drive Darryl crazy. He’s like ‘we have to leave.’ But that was just his personality.”
GALLERY: 12 Jarome Iginla moments
Former voice of the Calgary Flames Peter Maher echoed those sentiments, telling Global News as great a hockey player as he was, he was an even better person.
“What stands out for me was a night in 2004 when the Flames won the Western Conference Championship beating San Jose in the Scotiabank Saddledome,” Maher recalled. “After the game … it was raining, Jarome was out there in the middle of the parking lot signing autographs for kids and asking them how they’d done in school.”
WATCH (March 2, 2019): Kevin Webster with KidSport Calgary joins Global News Calgary to talk about the impact former Flames captain Jarome Iginla had on the organization during his NHL career.
Conroy’s friendship with Iginla runs deep, and he described the power forward as a ”genuinely good person” but stressed that he was still a fierce competitor.
“When we talk about Jarome, how nice he is off the ice … he could be ruthless on the ice. He was there to win. He wasn’t there to make friends. You could be his friend but if you’re on the other team – you’re not friends during the game.”
“He wanted to win every game. Whether we were playing ping-pong or golf or tennis or anything. He has to win.”
“When we were on the ice I used to kind of like it when people would ‘poke the bear’ because once he got a little bit mad and upset he was even so much better, which was fun to play with,” he added.
WATCH: ‘It wasn’t meant to be’: Jarome Iginla discusses Stanley Cup Final loss
Maher said Iginla would do his utmost to turn a game around when it was needed.
“Jarome was going to find a way to change a game if he possibly could, be it a fight, be it he slams somebody into the boards, or be it he scored a big goal — and he scored an awful lot of big goals.”
“They talk about the Gordie Howe hat trick — which is a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game — Jarome had 11 of those as a member of the Flames.”
Iginla is the franchise leader in goals, points and games played and reached the 30-goal mark 11 times and was a six-time NHL all-star with the Flames. He played for Canada at three Olympics, winning gold in 2002 and 2010. He assisted on Sidney Crosby’s overtime winner against the Americans in the final in Vancouver in 2010.
Saturday’s ceremony starts at 6:30 p.m. with Maher serving as the master of ceremonies.
“It’s a very powerful, emotional ceremony,” Maher said.
— With files from The Canadian Press
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