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End of an era, as Iginla's tenure with Flames closes

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- Jarome Iginla fondly recalls his first game in Calgary.

He didn't realize the one he played this past Sunday would be his last in a Calgary Flames jersey.

Making his debut as a fresh-faced 18-year-old rookie during the 1996 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Iginla would embark on a 1,219-game journey as a member of the Flames that ended Wednesday after a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"To think I've played my last game in Calgary and at home -- and I'm happy we won our last one at home -- I look back and I wish I would have known it was my last one," said Iginla, who scored the game-winning goal in the Flames' 3-2 victory against the St. Louis Blues. "As far as the crowd, they were great when I got that last goal. I'll remember my last goal and the crowd's reaction, it was awesome. I didn't really fully acknowledge it because I didn't know what the circumstances were going to be, but I do appreciate that and I want to thank them for that."

It's one of many memories Iginla's accumulated over his storied career.

"I've grown up here," Iginla said. "I came here just at the end of 18 and played my first game here in the playoffs, one of my favorite games I've ever played. Getting the chance to play here in Calgary against the Chicago Blackhawks and play on Theo Fleury's line. Just to start it off that way, I never would've dreamt I'd get to play here so long.

"It's a great hockey city, a great community and such a great balance between a wonderful city and a great place to live."

But after failing to qualify for the playoffs for three consecutive seasons and with a fourth absence looming, Iginla waived his no-trade clause to join the Penguins, ending his 16-year tenure with the Flames to join the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Co. in a chance to win his first Stanley Cup.

Iginla admits he had initial designs of doing it in a Flames jersey.

"I wanted us to ultimately win," he said. "We've had some good teams here, but over the last few years here I thought we'd find a way to get in and we haven't yet. I understand that and don't take it personal."

Iginla came close in 2004, leading Calgary to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. The team fell short to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Jay Feaster, now the Flames' general manager.

"Being able to be that close to a Stanley Cup, it still stings, but at the same time it's a great memory from the Red Mile to the 'C of Red,' all that stuff that was developed and grown in that playoff run," Iginla said. "It's truly an amazing memory. I would change a small thing there, but that'd be it."

Iginla is hoping Pittsburgh can close that gap.

The move doesn't come without some strange feelings.

"This is definitely mixed emotions with my teammates, the city, the organization," he said. "To leave is tough, but I'm also excited about the opportunity to go with Pittsburgh and play with them and have an opportunity to do some good things there."

Iginla's departure is eerily similar to the way he joined the Flames.

His journey began after Joe Nieuwendyk, another longstanding Flames icon, was traded from Calgary to the Dallas Stars before Christmas in 1995. Wednesday's trade made the process come full-circle for Iginla, who was dealt this time for prospects Kenneth Agostino, Ben Hanowski and a first-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound forward smiled at the thought.

"I had a little bit of a different last name and people couldn't pronounce it or anything like that and that's cool," he said. "I was thrilled Calgary saw something in me and was excited to make me part of the Joe Nieuwendyk trade. I took it as a huge compliment and I was very flattered."

With his desires and the Flames' philosophy moving in opposite directions, Iginla hoped Calgary could duplicate the trade that brought him into the organization.

"I understand why it was done and I think it makes sense for everyone and I wish them the best, the absolute best," he said. "I don’t know the players in the deal, but I hope that they light it up here."

The way he did.

Iginla spun the opportunity he was given into the most storied career in Flames franchise history. His 525 goals and 1,095 points are both team bests with no challenger in sight.

"I feel very, very blessed and fortunate to play here as long as I have and got to make as many friends and great memories here and build a bond with the fans and the city. I love playing here," he said.

So much so that he wouldn't dismiss a return in the future -- as a player, resident of the city or otherwise.

"I never rule anything out," Iginla said. "I have nothing but great memories. I think the organization is going in the right direction. I don't know what else their plans are, but the coaching staff works very hard and are very passionate. As far as living here, I don't know where I'll be playing, really, after this year. [Calgary] has really become home and it's going to be hard to leave. It'd be easy to come back and live here, for sure."

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