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'IT'S GOING TO BE SPECIAL'

Former teammates and coach talk about worthy honour of jersey retirement for No. 12

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Craig Conroy isn't sure whether he or his pal will get more emotional the evening of March 2.

"It's going to be special," says the Flames' assistant GM, already looking forward to Jarome Iginla Jersey Retirement Night.

"What I'm happy about is we still see No. 12 jerseys everywhere, in the building and around the city. Sometimes when you wait a few years to do something like this, it loses a little bit of its momentum.

"But the love affair between Jarome and the city is still strong.

"I mean, I look down from my little (press box) perch and still see 12s everywhere.

"If you were starting a team, you'd start with him. The type of person he is. And the type of player he was. Score. Hit. Fight when he had to.

"As far as teammates go, the very best.

"With Jarome, it isn't just one or two or three things.

"It's everything.

"Hey, I got to play with arguably the best player in the history of the Calgary Flames, ride shotgun, be a part of it.

"That's a pretty neat thing to be able to say."

The first true franchise icon, Lanny McDonald, couldn't be happier with Thursday's announcement.

"When you look at what he did, he played, the kind of leader he was, the fact that he scored - I think - 525 goals in Calgary … alone,'' marvelled No. 9.

"To score 500 goals for one franchise, to lead the team to the Stanley Cup final and how he played to get them there, how he represented himself, how he treated the fans, it's absolutely amazing.

"This is fabulous.

"And so appropriate."

A notable Iginla collaborator, Alex Tanguay, sent his congratulations from New York.

"Immediately with Jarome,'' says the silky four-season Flame left-winger, "you think of the impact he had on the ice. A first- ballot Hall-of-Famer. Represented his country extremely well.  

"His working attitude fit right in with the Calgary mentality.

"No one can deny any of that.

"But for me, on a personal basis, getting to know Jarome, what he's done off the ice is every bit as important.

"This is a guy who never turned down a picture, never turned down an autograph. So nice and kind.

"Was anybody - anybody - in the city during his time frame there more impactful than Jarome? More respected? More popular?

"My guess would be no.

"And that's why, when you take both into account, it's only fitting that No. 12 is going to be retired."

Another contemporary, Rock-Em/Sock-Em defenceman Robyn Regehr, second behind Iginla on the career Flames' games-played list, seconded the motion.

"He was the face of the franchise for 15-plus seasons, so there's no debate,'' says Regehr.

"No matter what type of game we played, good, bad, ugly, he'd make his way out, smile, and sign almost every single autograph. Be very professional about it.

"Lots of people would come to games from Saskatchewan, all over, and wait for him. And he'd never disappoint them.

"On the ice, what sticks with me was how competitive he was. He loved scoring goals. Didn't like it. Loved it. And he'd mix it up if he had to, get in a fight, whatever he felt needed to be done.

"Whether coming in for fitness testing at the start of the year, playing ping-pong or video games with the guys or out on the ice, he was just a competitive guy. He wanted to win. He wanted to excel."

A former coach, Brian Sutter, was there during the Young Guns phase, the formative years of the Iginla career.

"Helping a guy like Jarome become a good pro,'' says Sutter, "is something I'm proud of.

"Most important thing about being a good pro is being respected by your teammates, having your teammates look up to you. It's not about just scoring goals or getting assists.

"When Iggy played with a chip on his shoulder and was focused in the right way, he was scary to play against. He could score from anywhere, from the perimeter or on the off wing, but he could be as good along the boards, in the corners or in front of the net as anybody.

"The best way to describe it is: If I was in a war, when I stick my head out of the fox hole and there's bullets whizzing around, there's special guys standing beside me, arm-in-arm.

"Jarome was one of those guys.

"He worked on the intangibles, what made him a special player. But you can't work on them if they aren't already inside you.

"It's awesome they're doing that. So well deserved. You knew it was only a matter of time."
 

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