CALGARY – Jarome Iginla’s first game at Scotiabank Saddledome as a Boston Bruin was delayed a few minutes Tuesday.
After acknowledging a pre-game video montage by saluting his former teammates on the Calgary Flames bench, as well as lifting his stick several times to acknowledge the crowd, Iginla joined Boston’s starting five at the blue-line for the national anthems.
But the standing ovation that began even before the video tribute continued on for some time. Iginla attempted to get his game face on, but it cracked into a wide grin at the familiar chants of “Iggy, Iggy” and he raised his stick again.
The moment was as much for Flames Nation as it was for Iginla, who played his first 16 NHL seasons in Calgary and was captain for nine until his trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March.
“It was definitely emotional. It was a cool feeling,” Iginla said. “It felt special, the ovation there at the start and then you kind of feel funny standing out there.”
The 36-year-old signed with the Bruins in the off-season. Playing their third game in four nights, the Bruins scored a pair of third-period goals to beat the Flames 2-1.
Iginla’s short lap onto the ice after he was named third star of the game turned into two longer ones. His Bruins teammates blocked the bench to make him stay on the ice longer and soak up the adulation.
“The guys came out and wouldn’t let me off the ice,” Iginla said. “I went for one little loop and they were like ‘no, no, you’ve got to go one more’ and they made me go one more, too.
“That was fun and it was nice of the fans. They probably wanted me off the ice by then, too.”
When Iginla played his last game in Calgary on March 24, it was a possibility, but not a certainty that he would be traded. Three nights later as trade talks were on in full force, Iginla was at home as the Flames hosted the Colorado Avalanche.
The trade was announced after that game. Iginla gave a farewell press conference the following morning and quickly departed for Pittsburgh.
So Tuesday’s game was the overdue opportunity to bid a fond farewell to a player who was the face of their franchise and remains team’s all-time leading scorer with 575 goals and 570 assists in 1,219 games.
Iginla was the NHL’s leading goalscorer twice and also won the Art Ross Trophy as a Flame. He captained the team to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 when they lost in seven games to Tampa Bay.
The right-winger twice won Olympic gold representing the Calgary Flames and assisted on Sidney Crosby’s golden goal in 2010.
But the Flames faced a fourth straight season out of the playoffs when Iginla was asked by general manager Jay Feaster last spring to waive his no-trade clause. Iginla did so and supplied a list of preferred destinations.
Similar to the sentiment when defenceman Ray Bourque left the Bruins after 21 seasons to win a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, there was a sense that Iginla earned the right to join a team that could help him win the elusive Cup.
Iginla played 13 regular season games and 15 post-season games for Pittsburgh. He then signed as a free agent with the Bruins, a team he turned down in favour of the Penguins the night he was dealt.
Iginla has six goals and 11 assists and is plus-12 in 30 games for the Bruins.
Iginla’s linemate David Krejci tied Tuesday’s game 1-1 at 13:49 of the third period and Reilly Smith scored the go-ahead goal at 15:27.
Iginla rang a puck off the post just seconds before Krejci’s goal. He had two of his team’s nine shots over two periods and four overall in the game.
“It was great to get the win for him because it wasn’t looking so good halfway through the third period when we were still down 1-0,” Reilly said. “It was just great to get the victory for him and have a good homecoming.”
For Calgary, Iginla represents the optimistic years following the team’s run to the Cup final in 2004 when Flames fans felt their team was a contender every season.
Iginla, goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff, defencemen Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr were the blue-chip players around which that contender was built, although the Flames haven’t gone further than the first round of playoffs since 2004.
Phaneuf and Regehr were dealt prior to Iginla, but more than any move the departure of the captain signalled the Flames were entering a rebuilding phase.
Kiprusoff retired in the off-season, so the Flames do not have star power this season. They’re a team 14 points out of a playoff spot needing to be greater than the sum of their parts to win games.
The Saddledome seats filled up slowly prior to the game because Calgary’s slippery, snowy streets made driving difficult. But almost an hour before puck drop, one of the few who had made it to his seat bellowed “Let’s go Iggy.”
Iginla was the first Bruin to step on the ice both for the game and in warmup, which started the “Iggy Iggy” chorus.
A man carried a not-quite-life-sized cardboard cutout of Iginla in his Flames uniform to the glass. There were dozens of red No. 12 jerseys in the seats.
“You don’t really know what the response is going to be,” Iginla said. “People were great and they made it very special for myself and for my mom—I haven’t talked to her yet—and my dad.
“It’s pretty cool and it’s humbling and people are cheering and it’s pretty special. They made me good. It did make me feel good seeing some signs that said ‘miss you’ and all the 12 jerseys.”
There were some who felt Iginla should have agreed to a trade earlier in his career so the Flames could have gained more in return than the first-round draft pick and a pair of college prospects from Pittsburgh.
But he is loved in Calgary for his loyalty and that sentiment was evident Tuesday at the Saddledome.
“It was more than I could have hoped for and honestly, coming back, part of you is looking forward to it and then you just want to get through it,” Iginla said. “I didn’t have a lot of feelings of just trying to get through it.
“I really enjoyed it all.”