When the puck dropped on the 2016-17 season for the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night at Pepsi Center, it was the beginning of something new.
A cyclical birth and rebirth as campaigns come and go, each new year bringing with it the hopes and expectations of a fresh start, these games also bring with them the fond memories of yesteryear, especially for a player like Jarome Iginla, who kicked off his 20th season in the National Hockey League when Colorado topped the Dallas Stars 6-5.
"I've been very blessed to play 20 seasons. It's the NHL; it's what I've dreamt of since I was 7 or 8. When I made it, you know, it's just trying to stick and all those different things," said Iginla, reflecting back on those early days. "It's neat to think back to all the different team members, all the guys I met and got to play with and stuff. It's fun, it's the start of season."
No matter how many years he's competed, Iginla still gets the undeniable twinge of unbridled excitement the day of the first match. He's anxious, he's jittery, but make no mistake, now after 1,475 games spent out on that stage, he's certainly not nervous.
"During the day I was a little bit anxious just to get it going. I liked that we had the few extra days, but then once it was the day it was like, 'OK, lets get it going already,'" he said. "Once the puck drops, I'm probably not as nervous as I was to start season one or two or whatever, but it's still exciting."
No, he's been there before. He's seen the ups and downs of nearly as many years as the Avalanche has been a team, and he still enjoys playing a game for a living as much as anyone. That's not to say that his perspective hasn't changed from when he was a wide-eyed rookie looking to find a permanent roster spot with an NHL club.
Video: Jarome Iginla talks about his 20th NHL season
"I don't know how much longer I will play. [I'm] just trying to appreciate it. You always try to appreciate it, but really think about it and enjoy each win." Iginla admitted. "I do think back to some of the different guys [I've played with]. I also think back to when I started at 19 and a guy who was 30, I was thinking, 'Man, he has kids and a family; he's old.' [Now] I'm 39, so what are they thinking? What is Mikko [Rantanen] thinking? So we joke about those things and stuff. It sure has gone by fast. It's still a lot of fun to play, and I still feel very fortunate."
When you've been through it all as much as he has, it would be easy to think of each game as just another contest. When you have 611 goals and 662 points, it wouldn't be hard to let them blend together, the events becoming so identical that the timeline diminishes into a loop of only the favorites. Yet for Iginla, there's still meaning behind the totals, especially when it comes to his last goal--scored on April 9, 2016 in the season finale versus the Anaheim Ducks--and the next marker, whenever he gets it.
"If I think about it, yeah it's pretty cool," said Iginla, reflecting on the milestones he's accomplished. "When I started, I didn't think I'd get 600 goals or get to play 20 years and get to play with some of the guys I've played with and experience some of the things I have.
"I do know the next goal is 612 and [I'm at] 611. I have two boys and a daughter, but the boys wanted a puck. One's favorite number was 11 so he wanted 611 and my other boy wants 612. So I do know where that [mark] is, and I do want to remember to pick that up for him. I think that's cool that they enjoy that and want a keepsake and stuff, so I'll try to get that."
The continued passion for the game, the enjoyment of the day-to-day rigors of life as an NHL veteran and the rewards they provide at the end of the day is what keeps the game fresh and fun and unique. It's what fuels an individual. It's what drives a team, and it's what the Avs have to build upon as they take off for their first road trip of the season.
"It's exciting. As a team you know the possibilities. You never know which team at the beginning is going to end up winning, and it feels good with the team we have," Iginla said. "Guys are [doing] a lot of positive things."