The fans didn’t want him to leave. His teammates wouldn’t let him leave, either.
Jarome Iginla’s highly anticipated return to Calgary, the city where he spent 16 years playing and leading the Flames, could not have gone any better. He was honored with a video tribute and standing ovation prior to puck drop.
The Boston Bruins, the team Iginla now plays for, came away with a victory, and Iginla, named the third star of the game, did not one but two laps to salute the fans inside the Saddledome. When he went to come off the ice, his Boston teammates, including captain Zdeno Chara, made sure he stayed on just a little longer so he and the fans could share just one more embrace.
“I’m trying to prepare myself,” Iginla said prior to that eventful night of Dec. 10. “I don’t plan on being extremely emotional, but I don’t know. I really want to try and take it as it comes. I had great experiences. I loved playing here.”
Iginla’s time in Calgary was fruitful in its earlier years. Twice he hit the 50-goal mark as a member of the Flames. He also helped lead them to within one win of the 2004 Stanley Cup, which they lost in the seventh game of that series to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a blockbuster deal on March 28 during the lockout-shortened season. Originally, there were reports the now 36-year-old Iginla had been traded to the Bruins, but Calgary’s former GM Jay Feaster shocked many when he stood at the podium and announced that the face of the Flames franchise for so many years was going to Pittsburgh, where he’d be united with Sidney Crosby.
The Flames, in return, picked up for prospects Kenneth Agostino and Ben Hanowski and the Penguins’ 2013 first-round pick.
“This is not why I came to Calgary, to be the guy to trade Jarome Iginla,” said Feaster on March 28.
“It’s an unfortunate and difficult part of this business. It was tough. I’ve only known Jarome for the three years I have been here, and Jarome has been very good to me. They are tough conversations to have.”
Feaster lost his job on Dec. 12.
The trade between Calgary and Pittsburgh was due in part to Iginla’s contract — a five-year deal worth $35 million — and that he was in the final year of it. The Flames were looking to get younger, to rebuild a franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs since 2009.
For Iginla, going to Pittsburgh represented a shot at winning his first ever Stanley Cup. But the Penguins were eliminated in the Eastern Conference final by the Bruins in a sweep.
Iginla’s recent history with the Bruins wasn’t done there, however. He signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Bruins on the first official day of NHL free agency on July 5, a decision that paved the way for that emotional December night in Calgary.