Honoring #12

March 4, 2019 | Peter Maher

Honoring #12 Jarome Iginla

The week started with some national television hockey analyst’s kind of snubbing the Flames. It ended with a glorious ceremonial tribute retiring the number of the Flames greatest player.

Jarome Iginla, always as classy off-the-ice as he was brilliant on it, reflected on his 16 years with the team but didn’t overlook the current Flames, who rank as the second-best team in the entire NHL. During his acceptance speech Saturday night in a packed Scotiabank Saddledome where the ‘C of Red’ was as dominant as it’s ever been, Iginla proclaimed to Flame fans “You’ll be watching many, many Cup runs ahead.” That refuted assessments from a number of television commentators on NHL Trade Deadline day last Monday, February 25. Not all, but many of them didn’t list the Flames among the contenders for this year’s Stanley Cup despite their strong performance through the first three-quarters of the regular-season.

The consensus was the teams built to contest Lord Stanley were Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Nashville, San Jose, Vegas, defending champion Washington and perhaps, Boston and Toronto. Only Tampa Bay has a superior record than the Flames at this point. The Lightning are clearly the class of the league starting this week with 104 points – 15 more than the Flames.

Perhaps, slighting the Flames is actually a good thing. It makes the expectation level not too great, although those in the Flame dressing room believe they have within their structure what it takes to win it all.

Winning it all at the NHL level is the only thing missing from Iginla’s impressive resume of 20 years in the NHL plus three seasons playing major junior.

Two Memorial Cups, a World Junior Championship, two Winter Olympic Gold Medals, another Gold Medal from the World Cup of Hockey are his team accomplishments. Individually, he was NHL point scoring champion once and twice led the league in goals as well as making countless All-Star teams.

He has more than enough credentials to, within another two or three years, gain entry to the Hockey Hall-of-Fame when he becomes eligible.

If the crowd in the Saddledome on Saturday had its way, Iginla would have his name on the big Cup. The many references from the centre-ice podium to the 2004 Flames tremendous playoff run all produced the same response from the crowd “It was in.”

The resounding reference being to the very controversial non-goal Martin Gelinas scored in Game 6 of the Cup final against Tampa. It came with eight minutes left in the third period and had it counted would have given the Flames a 3-2 lead in a game where a victory would have won them the Cup. Instead, game officials, without the benefit of today’s sophisticated goal review technology, didn’t see it as a goal. The Lightning went on to win that game in double overtime. Then they won Game 7 in Tampa, 2-1.

Backstopped by Miikka Kiprusoff’s sensational goaltending, Gelinas’ clutch goals (the winner in all three series-clinching games), a grinding, battling team spearheaded by the captain Iginla, won three series all against pennant-winning teams – Vancouver, Detroit and San Jose.

Iginla was the driving force in both the regular-season and playoffs. In the 26 post-season games “Iggy” scored 13 goals – five more than anyone else on the team. Plus, his 22 points bested line-mate Craig Conroy by 5 points. As well, he fought when he felt the team needed a spark and made many crushing hits that helped turn games around. Without #12, that 2004 playoff run wouldn’t have happened.

One of the reasons a number of the TV guys gave for the Flames not being ready to challenge for the Cup was their comparative lack of playoff experience. True, the Flames don’t have an abundance of players experienced in the tougher, more pressure games. Does it matter?

When the 2004 playoffs began, the man who propelled those Flames to the cusp of the Cup – Iginla – had competed in only two prior NHL post-season games and they were when he was a teenager eight years before. The bigger the game, the better he played. A great example for the current Flames, who are a month away from playoff action.

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