I thought it was my fault. It wasn’t, really- life, much like comedy, depends on timing, and we just happened to time it poorly.
We’d planned to go to a game, with the idea being that we would see Jarome Iginla in a Flames jersey one more time before he inevitably got moved. Two choices, and we’d gone with the later one because it was easier to plan. Wednesday, March 26th, against the Colorado Avalanche. One week before the trade deadline, as it turned out. We were cutting it close.
I heard it, waiting for my friend: Jarome Iginla was a healthy scratch from the game, and a deal was imminent. He was probably going to be traded, that night. Our plan to see him was for naught.
It needed to happen, and we knew it. I’d put up a brave face about being ready for it before, made all the rational arguments about why it made sense. And for the most part, Flames fans knew it. The team was second last in the West, and we could probably do that without someone who’s been part of the organization for over fifteen years.
It was interesting seeing the reactions: universally, Flames fans were sad, and others were sad with us. Iginla was a huge loss, as much for his name as his game at this point. Online, I had one friend who reacted to that reaction, suggesting we cheer for “the logo on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back”. Which was interesting to me: they didn’t need to be mutually exclusive. Going to the game with my friends, hearing the chatter on the radio, from people around us, it was hard to think that way, for that night. Even without being there, the night was about Iginla, and it was hard to ignore.
We met at the rink, and went down to watch the Flames warm up. There were three of us, and we all had jerseys: two red, one white, and two of us had Iginla jerseys. Most Flames games, you’d see a lot of Iginla jerseys anyway, it just seemed to take on more meaning today.
Of COURSE we were dwelling on it. Iginla was a generational talent, one who’d been with the team for a long time, playing on a great many terrible Flames outfits without any complaint, and a big part of any success they’d had over his time. He was a great player, by all accounts a great teammate, and a face of the franchise that any other team would have taken in his prime. He was a perfect hockey player: he scored, he passed, he hit, he fought, and he’d smile and shake hands and make nice after the game. He was the greatest player the franchise had ever seen. Flames fans were lucky to watch him play, and to have him be the voice of the team. We thought that was worth celebrating, and remembering, and being sad it was done.
It was a shame over the last several years that the Flames hadn’t been able to take advantage of his talents. Outside of one magical playoff run in ’04, there hadn’t been much success for him here. And none of that was his fault. Hockey being a team game, he couldn’t really control what happened to the other 18 players that took the ice with him each night.
It was strange, given the direction of the team the last few years, that he was still here. We all knew it was coming, that he would move on at some point, be it by his career ending, or moving to a better team of his own free will. Each year just seemed to make it worse, to make it harder. It gave us this absurd hope, that everything would break right, that the team would put it together again, that Jarome would put them on his back and lead them deep into the playoffs, as he did many years ago.
At this point of his career, Iginla couldn’t be the best player on a good team. He tried, and never complained about his burden in Calgary, but it was easy to see. He would never ask for a trade publicly, being the good soldier. But how could the ownership watch this team and conclude that it was a contender right now? Was it nights like this, where they shared that absurd hope with fans, that made them think if everything broke right, maybe, just maybe, it could happen again?
We took our seats, and the game got going. Iginla wasn’t playing, and the Flames even brought out backup goalie Joey Macdonald instead of well known starter Miikka Kiprusoff (also rumored to be dealt at some point, though if it was happening that night, no one was talking about it).
The Flames came out inspired, taking an early 2-0 lead, outshooting Colorado 12-2 in the first period. This frustrated me: Where was this the first 30 games? Why couldn’t they match this effort every night? Ignoring that Colorado was as much of a bottom feeder as Calgary this year, watching the Flames had been painful. They could lose to any team on any night. They simply weren’t good enough unless it all broke right.
Even as the Flames played hard, sporadic chants of “Iggy” broke out during the game. Once at the beginning after the puck dropped, and a couple times as it went along. We joined in. “Iggy” was still in our hearts and minds, even if there were many others on the ice demanding our attention, and getting it as they took and kept the lead.
It was a good game for our boys in red, despite the lack of star power. Though they didn’t match the first period’s intensity, the Flames led the whole way. As they seem to do, Colorado got close at the end, down by one late, leading to a tight, defensive finish. I hate/love watching the end of games- I feel like the Flames get too conservative, and let teams hold the puck in their zone, but it was just as much Colorado being aggressive, I think.
The action was tense, and Colorado was pressing. Late in the third, with the action going in the Flames’ zone near their goalie, there was someone a couple sections over who tried to start an “Iggy” chant again. Some joined in half-heartedly, but with the game close, and our attention on the play, his effort didn’t get much traction. The cowboy hatted gentleman was not happy with the rest of us. “Seriously?!” he yelled, flipping off the crowd around him.
We couldn’t, though. I’d wanted to, to respect a player and a man who’d been a part of this franchise for so many years, representing all the best in professional sports while playing for my favourite team, establishing himself as the best player in the franchise’s history. But the game was close, and the team was trying to win. They asked for our attention in their play and got it. That night, their effort demanded it.
My friend online had been right- almost. In the end, we cheered for the Flames logo on the front of the jersey. But we’ll never forget Jarome Iginla’s name on the back.