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STUFF OF LEGEND

By George Johnson - CalgaryFlames.com

As the images flickered past in high-def on the JumboTron, keepsake snapshots of his younger self so impossibly unstoppable, so relentlessly driven, Jarome Iginla by turns would smile, raise his eyebrows in slight surprise, or shake his head softly in recollection.

There he was.

The vintage model.

Snapping a shot off like cracking a wet towel in the wind, giving some poor goalie no chance, an inferiority complex and maybe a few hours on a psychiatrist's couch.

Dropping the mitts with Vinnie Lecavalier in a battle of the captains, circa the 2004 playoffs. Goal No. 500. Point No. 1,000.

Wrapping Martin Gelinas in a lung-deflating bear hug after another playoff OT winner. His first game, first point, in Flames' livery, as a green-as-grass kid, the playoffs of '96. Out in the community. Collecting highly-prized hardware. Being the face of the franchise.

Everything in his unparalleled arsenal was there, accounted for.

And as he watched those images, even the older version of the man being feted for a singular career in the Flaming C, it seemed, must have been impressed by that younger self.

Easy to see why.

"When the sweater went up," confessed Iginla, minutes after exiting the ice, his No. 12 forever raised to the local version of Olympus, "it felt like a curtain finally came down.

"It really did.

"I could say: 'It's over.'

"What's happened to me is beyond anything I could've dreamed of.

"I didn't tear up.

"But when you see the highlights again, the games, the moments, it does kind of hit you: 'I'm not going to get to do that anymore.' And that's okay. It's a big part of my life, always will be, but I was just saying to my wife, I miss it but I wouldn't rather be doing that now.

"I'm thrilled with my life. Being with the kids. What we do as a family."

The 40-minute ceremony, which gave the Flames' faithful one final night to ramp up the "Ig-GY! Ig-GY! Ig-GY!' chant, went without a hitch.

"You can't prepare for something like this," said the man of the hour. "You go out, you have a speech and it's like 'Oh, geez, I have a speech …' But I tried to take in everything. Full building. The energy. I tried to make sure I really did. It was so neat listening to Peter (Maher) again and Lanny (McDonald) on the video.

"Just really, really cool."

With his mom and dad, friends, wife Kara and the kids, Tij, Jade and Joe, on hand to lend support, Iginla - as mentioned - managed to hold his emotions in check.

Mom Susan, not so much.

"Every time I thought about this as we got closer, I'd get choked up," she conceded. "Then all night tonight I was going 'Wow!'

"And when that banner, his jersey number, went up …"

She stopped for a moment.

"Yeah …"

Another pause.

"Yeah …

"Sorry. The whole thing was amazing. The people are amazing. The love that I have felt, that everyone shows for him, is amazing.

"I watched him play over 30 years of hockey. No, he didn't get the Cup. But my gosh, he got everything else. I would take everything he's experienced and be happy. And I know he is."

"What, in the end, do people remember? Hard work, ethics, character."

Pal Craig Conroy, naturally, spun a few yarns at the podium, including a wonderful tale of his willingly relinquishing the captaincy to Iginla. Seated on the ice, there for the ceremony , were the GM who swung the deal to bring the 18-year-old Iginla here in the first place, Al Coates, the other two men who's numbers are retired, McDonald and Mike Vernon, along with a slew of ex-teammates including Gelinas, Conroy, Robyn Regehr, Cory Sarich, Mike Commodore, Curtis Glencross, Mike Cammalleri, Chris Dingman, Todd Simpson and more.

"You can't overstate it," said former linemate Cammalleri afterwards. "I thought the ceremony was beautiful. Typical Jarome Iginla: Class.

"You can't put measure on Jarome. As a friend and a teammate. People ask me about Jarome and the obvious things you can tell them are about his talent, his drive and how great he was on the ice. But what I just value is his friendship so much.

"He's just a tremendous person. And the community of Calgary felt that. It's a mutual thing.

"I travelled a while to get here. Long-story short, two flights.

"Typical Jarome. This was coming up, he'd called me a couple times. Wasn't going to ask me to get on a plane. I told him: 'I'd love to be part of it.' And in a gracious way, he said: 'That'd mean a lot.'

"Well, I wouldn't have missed this. No way."

One of the key points in Iginla's on-ice speech was that even that in disappointment of the losing in Game 7 of the '04 final against the Lightning (fans chanted "It went in!" a number of times Saturday, referencing the Gelinas no-goal that would've clinched the Cup for Calgary 48 hours earlier), he had exited the game a winner.

And with two Olympic golds and a couple Memorial Cups to show, that's pretty obvious.

"I got this close," Iginla held a thumb and forefinger perhaps an inch apart later on. "That's close. And yes, I know finishing is a huge thing. But I have the rest of the journey on that Stanley Cup run to look back on. And it was magic.

"I won Alberta AAA championships, I got to go to Kamloops on a great team and win. I got to play for 20 years. I got to play for Canada.

"I got lots of chances to win.

"And it's always fun.

"My daughter kind of put it in perspective. She told me it wouldn't make sense to be mad that I didn't win (a Stanley Cup) after all the things I've gotten to experience. All the places I've been.

"Taking it all in, from the beginning to now, if you'd told me at the start of the journey that I could have been a part of all this, just as it turned out, I would've run with it, no questions asked. Not asked for another thing.

"So how can I honestly sit here and say: 'Oh, man …'

"It's been truly awesome. And that number going up tonight, as I said, is like the curtain coming down.

"I have nothing to regret.

"I've been truly blessed."

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