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'JUST AN AWESOME GUY'

Darryl Sutter and Jarome Iginla talk about the strong relationship they forged

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

The celebratory din that ignited with the force of a stray bullet inside a munitions factory around every square inch of the St. Pete's Times Forum had, by then, died down.

What awaited the Flames as they stepped outside into the reality of a dream dashed was a brazier-like Florida heat, even so late into the night, and the numbing prospect of a long, silent charter flight home.

"Game 7 in Tampa, after we lost, we were the last two guys to walk out of the rink," Darryl Sutter is reminiscing of June 7, 2004.

"Just feeling … well.

"He was taking it so bad.

"He was hurting.

"His chance to win the Stanley Cup. How close he came. How close we came. How he carried the team in the playoffs. How much he wanted it to happen for the city.

"That's my best memory of Jarome:

"That night, how hard he'd played and how much he cared.

"And I told him that when he was in Calgary last summer (to announce his retirement)."

During his bordering-on 16-year tenure in this town, Jarome Iginla took directions from no fewer than nine different head coaches of varying personalities, from old junior mentor Don Hay to Iron Mike Keenan to a pair of other Sutter brothers.

But the one coach he'll remain forever associated with, unquestionably, is Darryl Sutter. 

Two men who, along with the aid of a Finnish stopper of few words, hauled the Flames to within hailing distance of history that long-ago night in Tampa Bay.

Off the cuff, they didn't seem a particularly felicitous pairing, the goal-scoring power forward and the flinty, non-negotiable coach who preached the well-being of the flock.

Turned out, they mixed like gin and vermouth, even if the martini was at times shaken, not stirred.

"You don't mind being pushed," Iginla would explain later on of their partnership. "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."

And now, as Iginla's No. 12 is being readied to rise to the rafters on March 2 inside a building he made his personal playground for so long, the coach who helped put the finishing touches on a singular, generational player sounds downright nostalgic about their time together.

"I've been lucky," says Sutter. "We don't have only a coach-player relationship. We became close.

"Over the years, there was the management part, too. He got the big contract but he was willing to work with the team to make sure we could still keep other guys.

"He was all in on that.

"I remember flying down to (agent) Donny Meehan's office, sitting there and feeling good knowing Jarome was about the team, about his teammates, about the city.

"He so badly wanted to be part of a good team in Calgary and be a winner. He did so much in order to do that. 

"So personable with everybody. So patient. He went through all those tough years and still friggin' stood out there, talking to the media and doing everything he was supposed to.

"And just a great athlete, you know. As good a ballplayer as he was a hockey player."

Looking back now, Sutter was happy to be part of his storied career.

"He had a great career. That was one of the things about adding him in L.A., at the end. When they asked me about Jarome, I said: 'Of course. Go get him.'

"Because you know the player, and the person. He never changed. One of the best things for me was to see him then, in L.A., and how much he still cared, still had the passion, was still willing to do the dirty work to be a great player.

"You know. Everybody knows. That's how he is.

"I'm happy for him. I remember talking to him in L.A., at the end, and he was bound and determined to take his family to Boston and get the kids into all sports, be part of that, be a father.

"He didn't want to talk about his career, just about what was coming up in his life.

"Just an awesome guy.

"A good man."

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