CALGARY – He’s in his 17th season in the NHL, but this was new territory for Jarome Iginla.
The 36-year-old tried to anticipate Tuesday’s reception at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
A Flame for the first 16 seasons of his NHL career and team captain for nine until his trade March 27, Iginla expected to have more trouble than usual getting to sleep on the eve of his first game in Calgary wearing enemy colours.
“I’m trying to prepare myself,” Iginla said Monday in the unfamiliar confines of the visitors’ dressing room.
“I don’t plan on being extremely emotional, but I don’t know. I’m really want to try and take it as it comes. It will be different. I guess I don’t rule it out.”
That the right-winger is already with his second team—the Boston Bruins—puts some distance on the deal that sent Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a first-round draft pick and two college forwards to the Flames.
Iginla played 13 regular season games and 15 post-season games for Pittsburgh. He then signed as a free agent with the Boston Bruins, a team he turned down in favour of the Penguins the night he was dealt.
There will likely be more appreciation than animosity expressed towards Iginla on Tuesday.
He’s Calgary’s all-time leading scorer with 575 goals and 570 assists in 1,219 games. Iginla was the NHL’s leading goalscorer twice as a Flame. He captained the team to the Stanley Cup final in 2004 when they lost in seven games to Tampa Bay.
But Flames faced a fourth straight season out of the playoffs when Iginla was asked by general manager Jay Feaster to waive his no-trade clause. Iginla did so and supplied a list of preferred destinations.
Not unlike the sentiment when defenceman Ray Bourque left the Bruins after 21 seasons to pursue a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, there was a sense that Iginla couldn’t be faulted for wanting to join a team that could win him a Cup before his career ended.
“I don’t think there was a lot of hard feeling as far as I know,” Iginla said. “I had great experiences. I loved playing here. I’m going to enjoy playing here tomorrow and being back in the Saddledome.
“Hopefully it’s a warm reception and I know it will be special for myself. I imagine it’s going to be a little bit different at the start, but it will be cool.”
The Bruins could be Iginla’s vehicle to that elusive Cup. Boston tops the Eastern Conference at 20-8-2. The Flames are second-last in the West at 11-14-4.
Iginla has six goals, including a pair of game-winners, and 11 assists in 30 games for Boston. His last game at the Saddledome was March 24, when he scored the winner for Calgary in a 3-2 win over St. Louis.
Iginla was kept out of the game against the Avalanche three nights later while trade talks were in full force. He said the following morning at his farewell press conference “I would have known it was the last one.”
If Flames fans decide to acknowledge Iginla warmly Tuesday, the rebuilding Flames won’t begrudge him that moment.
“It’s going to be pretty different and weird obviously seeing him in a different uniform,” said Mark Giordano, Iginla’s successor as captain.
“A lot of us played with him for a long time, but I’m sure once the game gets going, he’s a competitive guy and we’re all competitive so it will be a hard-fought game. Obviously it’s a big night for Iggy and I’m sure he’ll get a warm reception here.
“There’s going to be a good buzz in the building. He’s obviously meant so much to this city and team that it’s going to be pretty special for him to come back and player here, but we need those two points.”