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'BETTER THAN I COULD'VE HOPED FOR'

Jarome Iginla reflects on his incredible career and 'growing up' playing in here in Calgary

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

The unblinking high beams of an on-simmer Pierre Page.

The non-negotiable standards of three - yes, count 'em, three - Sutter brothers.

The iron ore in Iron Mike.

"When I think of all the intense coaches who've been a part of my career …,'' muses Jarome Iginla, now Coach Iginla to sons Tij and Joe in competitive and rec hockey.

"I guess they rubbed off on my personal style. I'm more intense than I thought I'd be.

"Competing is very, very important me."

Following a sure-fire, first-ballot-Hall-of-Fame career, the Flames' longtime captain and leader in so many statistical categories will officially announce his retirement July 30.

He'll do it at the Scotiabank Saddledome, fittingly, where he carved his niche, made his name, burnished his legend.

Iginla hasn't played a competitive game since April 3, 2017 for the L.A Kings. The past fifteen months have been spent trying to get healthy (he recently underwent a hip resurfacing procedure) to perhaps see if he could continue playing.

The family's set up shop these days in Boston, wife Kara, the boys and daughter Jade, now a hockey-playing high schooler. The number of local tournaments for the three kids, cutting down drastically on time apart, made the Massachusetts option inviting and, having lived a year there, the transition proved easy.

"Good schools, good sports and no travel,'' reports the patriarch. "I guess I kinda got burned out from travelling."

Coming back to Alberta for this commemorate sign-off, though, is one trip he's relishing.

"In a sense, I grew up there,'' says Iginla. "I started playing for the Flames at 19 but even in minor hockey I remember traveling to Calgary for tournaments, from St. Albert, and I imagined playing in the Saddledome.

"It's been a fun adventure, for my family and I. Some great cities, great people. To be back in Alberta, though, will feel like home."

Where it all began, back in '96.

"You know, there were some disappointments, losing in 2004, for example,'' he says. "Being so close, that was tough. But it was amazing, too. The way the city embraced us. The Red Mile. And each series was so close. Beating Vancouver and then Kipper standing on his head against Detroit.

"I don't know if I ever told you this story but I remember sitting on the bench near the end of Game One against Detroit, we're getting beat 5-1, you look at the strength of their team, (Brett) Hull and all those guys, and a part of me goes: 'Well, at least we made it here …'

"And somehow we pulled that series off. Then reached the final.

"For sure, it took me a while to just let it go, losing. From seven years of missing the playoffs to almost winning it. And it does still sting a little bit. I've always dreamt of being on a Stanley Cup-winning team. That always stayed with me.

"I know now that dream isn't coming true.

"But if you said when I started that I was going to play 20 years, experience what I have, I'd have taken it in a heartbeat. I did the best I could, played as hard as I could.

"And all my dreams came true, more than I ever could've imagined, except that one dream.

"It just wasn't in the cards for me."

So much more was, and will be, like the invite to the Hall.

"I don't sit here now and think: 'Man, it flew by. I wish I'd enjoyed it more.' When I started, you have a dream about making in the NHL, how good it's going to be and what it's like. I enjoyed it while it was happening.

"I remember pulling into New York for the first time on a Sunday. For whatever reason I love big-city skylines. I've always been fascinated by them. And New York, so busy, was so amazing. The first time in all the different buildings. Being with the guys …

"I can honestly say it was all better than I could've hoped for. "

And Jarome was more than this city could have hoped for.

It makes nothing but perfect sense to honour him here.

His first game was there. His 500th goal was there. His 1,000 point was there.

And now, his farewell, too.

Both during the tumult of a media availability after he'd been dealt to Pittsburgh in April of 2013 and on his first return to the 'Dome in foreign colours, as a Boston Bruin eight months later, Iginla handled himself with stiff-upper-lip aplomb.

This time, given that there's a period at the end of the sentence now, a finality about it all, any lingering worries?

"There is,'' he confesses, "a little concern, actually.

"My kids are going to be there. My mom and dad. Brothers and sisters. Old friends.

"When I was traded from Calgary, I must admit, I had to catch myself a couple times. I didn't want to be crying. Nothing against anybody who cries, understand …

"But it was emotional. The closing of a neat part of my career, a long part of my career.

"So, to be honest, I don't know if I'll hold it together this time.

"I'm going to try.

"I plan on it.

"But being back in the Saddledome with all the great memories I have in that building …

"I guess there are no guarantees."

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