Sixteen years at any place of employment is a long time, but 16 years as the face of a franchise and having a nickname synonymous with a Canadian, hockey-loving city feels like a lifetime. Young or old, everyone knows “Iggy” and what he means to Calgary.
Even when he arrived in 1996, you were drawn to baby-faced Jarome Iginla and his infectious, beaming smile. He had been traded for Joe Nieuwendyk in December of 1995, a tremendously popular player, who had also done amazing things for both the city and Flames organization during his tenure. Jarome had some big shoes to fill, but he did that and then some. There’s not enough room on this page to list all of Jarome’s accolades. To say he exceeded people’s expectations would be an understatement. Hockey fans knew he was good on the ice, but he also gave the city a humble leader and a philanthropist who always had time for everyone. He went to war for his teammates on a nightly basis and proudly displayed the Flaming C on his chest.
Although I had met Jarome as a fan on a number of occasions throughout the years, I never knew how truly special he was until the winter of 2008 when I was trying to start my career. I was doing a job shadow assignment at the Saddledome. As we all converged in the dressing room after the team’s practice, I squeezed in to take part in my first ever media scrum. Everyone wanted to talk to Jarome. The team was coming off a successful January, going 7-3-1 and were impressive at home with a record of 4-1-1. He talked about the team battling hard every night and how each line was doing their respective job. As the scrum wrapped up, goalie Miikka Kiprusoff entered the room and everyone scurried over to talk to him. I didn’t really understand the protocol and stood there confused. Jarome immediately noticed and introduced himself to me. “Hi, I’m Jarome. Nice to meet you. Are you new?,” he asked. I told him I was an aspiring journalist on a job shadowing assignment for a course. He asked some more questions about my schooling and my goals in the profession. As I began to pack up my things, Jarome stopped me in the hallway. He handed me an autographed picture and said, “Good luck in your career. I hope to see you around here real soon.”
That was just a regular day for the captain. He liked everyone and everyone liked him. That mutual relationship of admiration and loyalty is what makes letting go so hard.
On March 28, 2013, the city of Calgary said goodbye to Jarome for a final time. The Ed Whalen media lounge was packed. There wasn’t an inch to move. #12 kept his emotions in check and beamed his unforgettable smile at us. He admitted he didn’t really have a speech prepared because he wasn’t retiring. He told jokes and chuckled his way through the nearly 30 minute availability. One of the most poignant moments though was when he looked over at longtime friends and teammates Craig Conroy and Michael Cammalleri. They were devastated. The looks on their faces told the story: this was actually happening and he was leaving us for good.
At the end of the media conference. Mr. Peter Maher, the man who has called all of Jarome’s goals, gave him a heartfelt thank you. You could tell how much it meant to Jarome.
On a final note, it’s hard to refer to him as just “Iginla” when you’re talking about him professionally. He always makes everyone feel like a friend. Simply, he’s one of a kind.
Thank you, Jarome.