At least that's the way Jarome Iginla
sees it as he approaches a major National Hockey League milestone of 1,000 games.
"Every year has been fun," said Iginla, acquired by the Flames in 1995 from Dallas in exchange for then Calgary captain Joe Nieuwendyk. "Even the tough times. It's still fun to get up and come to the rink and try and get better and improve as a team."
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RIGHT WING - CGY
GOALS: 433 | ASST: 469 | PTS:902
Still fun after 13 seasons that included lows like missing the playoffs for seven years, highs that included a trip to the seventh and deciding game in the 2004 Stanley Cup Finals, two Maurice 'Rocket' Richard trophies, an Art Ross Trophy, a King Clancy Award and the Messier Leadership Award.
Still fun and still counting in the Flames record books as the 32-year-old Iginla, continues to add accolades in that area -- he is already the leader in most seasons, most games played, most points and most goals.
When he arrived in Calgary in the spring of 1996 during the Flames-Blackhawks playoff series, he had no idea he would play 1,000 games with the same team. Heck, at the time he never figured he would play 1,000 games in the NHL.
"It's one of those things that I've been very blessed to play in the league for 13 years and to get to play in Calgary the whole time," said Iginla, who has evolved from wide-eyed teen to one of the top players in the game. "When I started I didn't think about (1,000 games). You are just trying to make it and stick with the team. As the years go by, the games add up.
"They go by so quickly. I think of all the different players I got to play with, different groups, different coaches. It's pretty neat. I feel very blessed. I can't believe how quickly it has gone."
Flames fans and Calgarians should feel blessed too. Iginla has proven to be a model citizen on and off the ice. He does it all from community work to hard work on the ice. Through good times and bad, he has remained the face of the franchise. He has gone through several contracts and plenty of trade rumours. But he remains a Flame and is happy to be playing that 1,000th game in the Flaming C Friday when the Flames visit the Florida Panthers.
"I know it was definitely close in the past," he said of a trade. "I'm thankful that I didn't (move to another team). And then you become a free agent. I am happy I signed here. I believe we can win here."
Iginla still remembers arriving in Calgary the day after his Kamloops Blazers had been eliminated from the Western Hockey League playoffs in 1996.
"At age seven you dream about playing in the NHL. When I got drafted, it was a special day for me and my family," recalled Iginla. "It puts you one step closer. When you actually play your first game, not matter what happens after, I'd made it to the NHL so it was a very special game that I will never forget," said Iginla.
"When I got here they told me I would be playing," said Iginla. "It was so cool. I remember walking through the dressing room here and trying to shake guys hands. That feels like yesterday. The guys were already half-dressed because I was a little late. It was an afternoon game. They were like 'Just get ready. We can meet later.' The night before I had been watching Flames highlights as a fan. There's Theo Fleury. No I get to be on his line in my first game. I'm playing against Ed Belfour, Chris Chelios and Jermey Roenick. From the night before you just never think that is ging to happen. It is something I will never forget, for sure."
Iginla would score and add an assist in two games that playoff spring. It would be seven years before he would hit the post-season again and he made the most of it, often strapping the team on his back as they plowed through the top three teams in the Western Conference en route to the Stanley Cup Final against Tampa Bay.
Ironically, on Saturday teammate Daymond Langkow will hit the 1,000-game plateau when the Flames play Tampa Bay -- the team that initially drafted Langkow.
Iginla and Langkow played against each other in minor hockey. "He kicked our butts 10-0 in the peewee provincial finals," Iginla noted of Langkow. The pair then played junior against each other and were linemates on Canada's World Junior team that won gold in Boston in 1995.
"Over the years we've crossed paths quite a bit -- in minor hockey, in junior. And we got to play together at the world juniors and win gold, that was pretty special. This will be special for both of us," said Langkow. "It's not something you think about when you start your career. You get drafted. Then your next goal is to make the team. It's not something I have thought about a lot over the years but it will be something I will be proud of."
"it's nice to share it with a teammate and a guy you grew up playing against and competing with," said Iginla.
Both players will be honoured by the Flames organization when the team returns from a three-game road trip early next week.
"I hope," said Iginla, "to play a while longer and still have our best successes ahead of us."