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37 FOR 37: IGGY RETURNS

Jarome was welcomed back like a hero when he took to the ice for the first time as a member of the opposition, even getting an extended post-game skate

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

This somehow seemed different. Felt different. Was different. 

Anything but just another morning skate on another December day of another NHL season. 

In its context, Dec. 10, 2013, carried the emotional resonance of MJ returning to Chi-Town as a Washington Wizard, Emmitt Smith to Big D as an Arizona Cardinal or Gretzky adorned in L.A. Kings' black and silver to Northlands Coliseum.

The greatest player of a franchise returning for the first time in foreign apparel to the place he'd grown up in, became a star in, made his name in, would never be forgotten in.

Oh, there had been other returns of other prodigal sons to the Saddledome - Nieuwendyk, Fleury, Vernon, MacInnis, to name but a few - but this, this topped 'em all.

Seven months earlier, Jarome Iginla, after waiving his no-trade clause, had been dealt to Pittsburgh after 15-and-a-half seasons of achievement in the Flaming C, subsequently signing in the fall with Boston.

The feeling that Dec. 10 of an entire city, a million strong, then, was perhaps best embodied by a four-and-half-year-old hockey fan named Ryan Howden, down at the Scotiabank Saddledome to meet his once and forever favourite player.

"Hey, buddy,'' said Iginla, looking a little odd in Boston black, bending down to shake hands with the tyke. "How ya doing? Thanks for coming."

Ryan had arrived in a red Calgary Flames' jersey, adorned with a couple of autographs in black sharpie. A No. 12 on the back, naturally.

On the front, though, a Boston Bruins crest had been attached.

Past aligned to present.

"It's been great to get back home," he said that morning. "Nice to go out in the city, people have been great. I've run into a few people, wishing me well. It's going to go quick, being back. The game goes quick. Just enjoying it.

"It's an honour. I appreciate it. I've had a great time playing here and I've always been treated very well. I didn't come back with any expectations. It's nice that it'll be at the beginning of the game and then we just play.

"You want to beat them. That makes it, from my point of view, from our point of view, a lot better experience. It'll be fun to play against the guys on the other side. I like playing against friends and teammates and guys you know around the league. I like it. I think it makes it more fun. I look forward to it."

The night began with a video tribute up on the JumboTron. Iginla was cheered in warm-up, exhorted on each time he touched the puck.

At game's end, the lights in the building dimmed, and he went out to take a nostalgic spin as the game's third star.

But as the Flames' all-time career leading scorer tried to exit an ice surface on which he had held sway for well over a decade, his Boston teammates - led by the 6-foot-9, 250-lb. Slovakian wall, Zdeno Chara - blocked his way.

So out he went, again.

Iginla kept circling. And the fans kept right on cheering.

"Z and all the guys came out and wouldn't let me off the ice," an amused Iginla protested. "I went for one little loop and they're like: 'No, no. No, no. You've got to go one more.' 

"And then they made me go one more, too.

"It was a cool feeling. Really special. And then you kind of feel funny standing there by yourself.

"You think back about just trying to make the NHL and then all the years I got to play for a great organization like Calgary. You don't know what the response is going to be … but people were great.

"It's humbling.

"They made it special for me."

As he had so often, for so long, for them.

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