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Jarome happy for new lease on life after joining Darryl and the Kings

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Back in black (and silver).

"I'd heard rumors, possibilities, different things you read or hear, fits that might work,'' Jarome Iginla is saying, on the phone from L.A.

 "But nothing concrete, by any means.

"My agent (Don Meehan) said he'd talk to Joe (Sakic), talk to teams, see where the interest was, and told me not to be impatient, it'd probably take right to the deadline.

"We never really talked specifics until the day before.

"So it wasn't like anything was in the works, like that was gonna be the spot."

When the fast-fading Colorado Avalanche passed through town in early January, Iginla still in tow and the trade deadline a shade under two months away, the Avs playoff hopes were already deader'n 8-trac tapes and possible landing places for a 39-year-old future slam-dunk Hall of Famer in search of what might be one final Stanley Cup shot were being widely bandied about.

Chicago, maybe. Los Angeles. Edmonton (wouldn't that be a kick upside the Levi's). A Calgary swansong, even.

At that point in time, with his immediate future very much up in the air, March 27 - Colorado's final season visit - had been circled on the calendar as a possible final Iginla trip to the building in which he held sway for 15 seasons.

That's since been pushed back an additional two days, and maybe further, possibly into April and playoffs.

Sunday, the long-time face of the franchise makes his first local appearance with his fourth post-Flames team.

The number, 88, will seem foreign but everything else remains as recognizable as your own name.

As everyone knows by now, Iginla's eventual touch-down point turned out to be LAX. SoCal. The land of sunshine, power lunches, ridiculously clean cars, the 405, robins-egg-blue pools off the deck and, yes, Darryl Sutter.

"It's been awesome,'' says Iginla. "Fun. I've gotten a great shot, playing with (Anze) Kopitar. That's pretty good. No complaints.

"And on the left side, either (Marian) Gaborik or (Dustin) Brown.

"Just coming here … 10-plus players who have won two Cups, a bunch more with one. It's neat to be in the locker room, watch the way they work.

"I may be 39 but you're never too old to learn, right?"

The Kings find themselves in a battle to crack the Top 8 in the West.

"If I'm not mistaken, the two years they won the Cup they were the eighth seed and the sixth seed,'' Iginla reminds you. "Sure, we're a bit behind right now but these guys understand what it takes.

"There's a quiet confidence here, in this room, and that's neat to see."

What matters personally for the greatest player in this franchise's history is that the buzz is back.

"Every regular season, as you get closer to playoffs, you hope you're part of a situation where each and every game means more and more.

"Unfortunately, this year in Colorado, with the way it went, that wasn't the case. You try to muster up the same type of intensity to match teams that are playing for something, positioning or a spot or whatever, but it's tough.

"There's a fire that comes naturally with needing extra points. That's a big part of why we play: The competition. That's no secret.

"Pro sports is a business of winning. When you're winning, when you're in the hunt, everybody's in a good mood and that energy comes naturally.

"When you're not, frustration sets in, you fight to manufacture that intensity, to try to stay positive and look for every good thing. But …"

Up ahead, on the horizon, Iginla sees nothing but possibilities for the franchise he only recently left.

"There's a lot of really good players there, guys with a lot of great seasons ahead of them. They're going to look back on this season as 'one of those seasons,' I'm sure.

"Sometimes you have to go through them. I know."

Another component of the shift , naturally enough, is Sutter.

"Darryl,'' laughs Iginla, "is still Darryl. Same guy. With more tan.

"There's that intensity, that fire, of course. Comes game day, it's all business, and you can see him ratcheting up another level. I don't think he's going to change much.

"Every coach has a different style, a slightly different way they deliver messages.

"Coming here, I already knew. So there's a comfort level in understanding the messages. Walking into any new locker room is an adjustment. But that familiar part, with him, is a positive."

During their previous two and a half years together in a superstar-coach dynamic, of course, Iginla tasted his greatest collective success, the Flames' run to the 2004 Stanley Cup final.

"When he was coaching, they were very successful years for the team. You don't mind being pushed. At the time you're going through it, it's not always easy. But as you get older, you see why he does things. Staying intense, being competitive.

"Those days when it's not going well, those kicks in the pants - I don't mean literally - are part of trying to help you.

"I always thought our relationship was good. He's just never wanted people to get comfortable with not winning. And that's not a bad thing."

On July 1, Canada Day, Jarome Iginla turns 40. He understands the clock stops for no man. Not everyone can be 45 and still have the moves like Jagr.

So Sunday, he's back in black (and silver), for the first time. There'll be another, guaranteed - March 29.

After that …

"Do I sometimes wonder if I'm going to play next year or not?'' Iginla replies, to the inevitable question. "Yeah.

"I don't know. I still enjoy it but there are lots of things to consider.

"So I'm trying to enjoy this, the opportunity. It's gonna go by fast. Keep that perspective.

"I'm trying to stay focused on the 'now' for sure.

"This has been a very successful group. Very motivated. They have a ton of leadership, from the situations they've been in, the Game 7s they've won.

"Which lets me just come in and … play. They play hard. There's belief.

"It's contagious.

"As I said before, there's nothing more fun than being involved in meaningful games. And we've got a few of them coming up here.

"I just want to play as well as I can, help us go as far as we can and hopefully win it.

"That part never changes."

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