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WAY TO GO, PAL!

Conroy and Gelinas talk about the upcoming retirement of good friend and linemate Iginla

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

The litany of luminaries is, as advertised, impressive.

"Trevor Linden,'' begins now Flames assistant coach Martin Gelinas, mentally scrolling down the list. "Mark Messier. Ron Francis. (Rod) Brind'Amour. I was lucky. I played with so many good players. Great players.

"And he's right there, at the very top.

"Because of his personality. His compete. You spend a little bit of time with Jarome Iginla and it's a breath of fresh air. 

"I've never heard him say a bad word about anyone. Always positive. Smile on his face.

"But a true warrior.

"I can't say enough about the guy.

"The ultimate player."

The pending retirement of the iconic No. 12 is, naturally, triggering memories of the days when Iginla ruled the roost in this town.

Centreman and pal Craig Conroy was lucky enough to land a season-ticket orchestra seat for much of the long-running hit show.

"He could play the game any way you wanted,'' lauds the Flames assistant GM. "When it got hard, he got better. That really seemed to take his game up a level or two. 

"When he got mad … hoo boy. Look out.

"I played with Hullie, one of the greatest goal scorers of all time. But he couldn't thrive in the kind of physical game Jarome loved.

"Thing is, even when there wasn't a lot of hitting, Jarome could get by on finesse. Even though he was classified as a power forward, he could play in any situation.

"But I do think he was at his best when he got a little upset.

"There was a shift, in Tampa (in 2004). I changed, he was still out there. Whoever replaced me, he was still out there. Like, forever. And he wound up scoring the winning goal on that shift.

"Little moments, too, like before OT in Game 7 against Vancouver in the first round. They'd tied it up in the last minute but Jarome's like: 'It's OK, we've got this.' Meanwhile, I'm like: 'How the hell did you miss the empty net?' And he's like: 'Relax. It's going to be good.'

"He was a quiet leader. Most of the time he just sat in the locker-room before games with a towel on his head, getting ready for what he had to do. That was the way he prepared. Kind of subdued, right? But when it got going, he was intense."

The Eliminator and The Captain, Iginla and Gelinas, are fused in the imaginations of Calgarians for their parts in that wildly improbable trek to the Stanley Cup final.

"The reason we went that far, played that well, is because of two reasons,'' says Gelinas. "Jarome Iginla and, obviously, Kipper.

"Those two guys were our catalysts. No secret there.

"We had a really, really hard-working team but teams that work hard can't win only on that. They still need someone to lead the way, to set the example.

"Iggy was that someone.

"That's what makes him special. Look, he's a fantastic player. He's an All-Timer. He's an All-Star. He's a Hall of Famer. But he's also a good guy. You want to go to war for him because he is the ultimate good guy.

"If he asked me to do something, I did it. Because I trusted him. Because I just think he's awesome. Because he's Jarome Iginla."

This Saddledome send-off, chimes in Conroy, is perfect.

"For sure, it's the right thing, the right way. He's a Calgary Flame. I know he played for a few other teams at the end of his career.

"But he's a Calgary Flame. Simple as that.

"Always will be."

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