During my time writing about hockey, I’ve been very fortunate to have met some of my favourite hockey people. From some of the most decorated retired players, up-and-coming young guys just entering the league, family members of some of the players, to people who work behind the scenes, I have been lucky enough to have met some of the most amazing people to grace the world of hockey.
But not many people get to meet their heroes. I did. In 2015. It was, by far, my favourite moment, being able to thank the man who had been the center of my hockey writing world for many years.
I started writing about hockey after my first novel was published. Novel writing is lonely and exhausting and I needed to try something new. So, when I was approached about cutting my teeth in the world of sports writing, I was hesitant, but I accepted the job, not realizing how much it would impact my life.
My background in hockey isn’t as exciting as most people’s stories. My family wasn’t sport-oriented and I didn’t know much about hockey other than what I saw on television or heard on the radio. I never got the chance to play because there was no girls hockey league in my small town when I grew up and it was unheard of for the girls to play in the boys league back then. So my hockey experience was limited to our rink at the farm or on the public outdoor rinks around town. Other than that, I was always only a spectator. And I became a spectator out of spite more than anything else.
It was Boxing Day, I was 12 years old, and my entire extended family was together at the farm. Like every other year, all the guys in my family were gathered in front of the television, watching hockey, and all the ladies were in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner.
I finished drying the dishes and made my way into the family room to see what was so intriguing about a bunch of guys dressed in oversized gear, slamming bodies into boards, and chasing a little black puck across a sheet of ice. I didn’t bother asking any questions, I just sat quietly to the side and watched the game while listening to my male family members yelling at the television screen.
At one point, my uncle looked over and found me sitting on the edge of the sofa, intently watching the game, and said, “what are you doing in here? Girls aren’t supposed to watch hockey. Why don’t you go back in the kitchen with the girls?” as all the other men in the room chuckled. Because I had always been a head-strong and defiant kid with a bad attitude, I replied, “girls watch hockey too!”
It seemed that most of the males in my family were cheering for the team in yellow while the red team struggled to gain an audience. Secretly, quietly, I cheered on Team Red. In the end, the red team overpowered the yellow team and I was impressed. I was hooked. What started as defiance quickly turned into intrigue and genuine interest in the game of hockey.
December 26th, 1988, the Calgary Flames won in overtime against the Vancouver Canucks by a score of 3-2 in a preview of what would later become the Stanley Cup matchup. And that was the season that I became a lifelong Flames fan.
A few years later, when hockey news was spread through word of mouth or news broadcasts on television and was not instantly available online, I heard that the Flames traded away one of their most beloved players, Joe Nieuwendyk. I was shocked and saddened to see one of the Stanley Cup winners being moved to another team. But what the Flames traded for would become one of the best possible outcomes in the world of hockey. I never realized, at that time, what kind of impact that trade would have on my own life.
While Jarome Iginla made his debut with the Calgary Flames, I was cramming and studying my butt off in high school so I could get into university. I wasn’t able to catch a lot of games then, but, when I did, I was impressed with the new guy. Over the first three or four seasons that Iginla played in Calgary, I caught as many games as I could, but university studies won the battle most nights. Still, I was impressed with his tenacity and perseverance. By 2001, I was back watching Flames games regularly and, every night, my eyes were glued to Jarome every shift. I was not just a Flames fan, I was also becoming a big Jarome Iginla fan.
It was the rise of Iginla during the early 2000s and I witnessed as much of it as I could. From 71 points in 77 games during the 2000-2001 season to 96 points in 82 games during the following season, he was a joy to watch. During the 2003-2004 season, as Jarome went on to captain his team to the playoffs, it was the most excitement I’ve seen out of the Calgary team since they had won the Stanley Cup in 1989. Iginla himself earned 73 points in 81 games that regular season and another 22 points in 26 playoff games. We all know what happened on that fateful night against the Tampa Bay Lightning as every Flames fan watching the game, from the Red Mile to our own homes, yelled the same thing at their televisions, “IT WAS IN!” We may have missed out on the cup, but we all felt we had won.
After the 2004-2005 lockout, I had hoped we could make another run for the cup, but the Flames playoff appearances were a lot shorter than expected after that lockout year. Calgary never got back into their playoff form like they did in 2004. But I watched and hoped anyway.
With 67 points in 82 games during the 2011-2012 season, and rumours swirling that the captain might be getting traded, I couldn’t rip my eyes off social media during what some Flames fans coined #IggyWatch. Most other fans that I talked to during that time felt the same way I did – we didn’t want him to leave, but, after missing playoffs for 3 seasons, we understood that Jarome wanted to chase the Stanley Cup. After being such a fierce and competitive leader for so many seasons, he was the face of the franchise, but I had come to a point where I just wanted what was best for Iginla. If he wanted the cup, I wanted it for him too.
I was there during Jarome’s final game in Calgary during the 2012-2013 season. I think we all knew it was coming and I wanted to see him live on the ice one last time. He had given me so much to talk about as a sports writer in the previous years that I felt I owed it to him to be there. Shortly afterwards, they announced that Iginla had been traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins to play alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He played 13 games to end that season in Pittsburgh and garnered 11 points and another 12 points in 15 playoff games. But he didn’t get the cup.
The following year, he was signed by the Boston Bruins and, again, I was there when he returned to Calgary to play with his new team. It was an emotional night, but we made it through and it was great to see him skating on what I considered to be his home ice again. With the Bruins, Jarome earned 61 points in 78 games throughout the regular season and had another chance at playoffs with the Boston team. Again, he didn’t get the cup.
The following 3 season would be spent in Colorado with the Avalanche, where Iginla would miss playoffs all 3 years. His final season with the Avalanche would see him make a move to the L.A. Kings, where he earned 9 points in only 19 games before taking some time off to heal from a hip injury. In April of 2017, Jarome played his final NHL game.
I got the chance to meet my hero in 2015. Jarome Iginla had just played his first season with the Colorado Avalanche. He hadn’t been with the Flames in almost 3 years, but, like most Flames fans, I still followed his career closely.
I was sauntering around the West Edmonton Mall by myself as my husband took the kids to the Water Park. I was just paying for a new handbag at the Coach store when my husband texted me, “COME TO THE WATERPARK NOW.” When he assured me that the kids were fine, I made my way through the mall slowly. My fear of water and my need for some quiet, me-time made me hesitate before texting him back as I stood at the glass wall that overlooked the entire park. I texted him, “I’m here, up at the glass, what’s up?” My husband saw me, waved frantically, and then sent me another text as I stood watching over the kids playing in the water. “GET DOWN HERE NOW.” I shrugged, wondering what could be so important that he would be so demanding. He’s not the demanding type, so I figured it was probably something important. As I made my way into the waterpark, I silently cursed him for interrupting my time alone.
As I walked towards the water’s edge, I saw a familiar face sitting in a lounge chair and I froze. I’m not the type of person to get star-struck by celebrities and famous people, but my breath literally caught in my throat as my eyes were glued to Jarome Iginla and his family relaxing near the water.
In the few seconds it took me to walk across the waterpark, I debated quickly whether or not to engage Jarome in a conversation. He was with his family, during the off-season, and I felt that I should just leave him alone. On the other hand, I had spent the past few seasons writing hundreds of thousands of words about the man and his career and I desperately wanted to thank him. In that second, I knew that if I didn’t say something to him, I would regret it for the rest of my life.
I tried to casually make my way over to him, and I apologized profusely for interrupting his family time, and then I explained that I just needed to thank him for making my sports writing career so interesting over the past few years. And then Jarome Iginla smiled at me, that typical Iggy-smile that all fans have come to know over the span of his career. When I told him my name, he gave me a look of acknowledgment and said he recognized me. I was so dumbfounded that words escaped me for the first time in my life. We chatted for a bit longer and then I excused myself, apologizing to him and his wife again for the interruption and I wished Jarome luck in the future. Before I turned around to leave, he thanked me for being such a loyal fan and follower of his time in hockey. He thanked me. And then he said it was nice to finally meet me.
I was absolutely stunned as I walked over to my husband and sat down. My husband gave me a knowing grin and said, “THAT is why I needed you to come here.” My husband said he took the boys over to meet the Iginla’s earlier and knew that if he didn’t text me, he may have had divorce papers served. He was right. “Now if only Kiprusoff was here, I’d never have to buy you flowers on our anniversary again,” my husband joked while I sat there still stunned.
As a player, Jarome Iginla was one of the most well-known and well-liked power-forwards the NHL has ever had. He’s known as a fierce competitor and skilled player on the ice. He is known as a genuine, sincere, and friendly person when he’s off the ice. From what I’ve seen, what you see is what you get with Iginla. He is exactly who people say he is and who he seems to be on television. He plays hard and pushes his limits as a hockey player, yet he was a gentle, friendly, welcoming man in person.
In a world when celebrity and wealth have a tendency to change people, it’s nice to know some people stay so grounded, true to their roots, giving back to people and never forgetting where they came from. Meeting Iginla, hearing him thank me for being a fan, and having him recognize me as a writer made every moment as a Flames fan worth it. From the highs of 1989 and 2004 to the lows of some of the years in between, every second I spent watching games, every dollar I spent on Flames gear became worth it. Jarome Iginla, spending time in the city where he is originally from, gave me one of my favourite moments in hockey, and for that I’ll always be grateful.