Before his homecoming to Calgary, Jarome Iginla admitted with a smile that he had circled Dec. 10 on the calendar when the NHL regular season schedule came out. He didn't say if he circled that date in ink with the same red hue that he wore with a flaming ‘C’ crest on his chest for 17 years, but it would have been okay if he did.
Similar to the pure, unconditional love that Ray Bourque received when he came back to Boston as a member of the Colorado Avalanche, Iginla was given the returning hero treatment at the Scotiabank Saddledome in a 2-1 win for the Bruins over his former Calgary Flames team.
“I was watching it. Even as a coach, I’ve got to be honest that it’s pretty emotional,” said Claude Julien. “You see everything he’s done, and everything he’s done for the city, the charities and everything else. It really shows the human side of these athletes. It’s nice that he’s being recognized for what he’s done around here, and I think I saw his mom and dad on the jumbotron in the stands. As a player to see all that, it’s got to be pretty emotional.”
Iginla didn’t crack the scoresheet despite a number of scoring chances and a final minute where every last one of his teammates on the ice desperately tried to feed him the puck. It was clear they wanted to win the game for Iggy despite a rough first 40 minutes, and David Krejci and Reilly Smith showed the way in the third period with the two goals needed for the two points.
Afterward, Smith made it clear the game-winning goal was about Iginla experiencing his storybook ending in Calgary.
“The biggest thing we talked about before the game was doing it for [Iginla],” said Smith to NESN in the postgame report. “He’s an absolute legend. We just wanted to show our appreciation. He’s a great teammate, so anything we could do to make sure he had a good night was worth it.”
Iginla was treated to a long, warm ovation after a video tribute to open the game, and then two loud victory laps around the arena after he was named the No. 3 Star of the game. At first, Iginla just went out for a quick wave. But B’s captain Zdeno Chara brought the entire Bruins team onto the bench while cajoling Iginla into taking two separate victory laps to thank the fans he’d entertained with a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
It was a warm, heartfelt piece of exactly what’s so right about hockey for Iginla and Calgary.
“You kind of reflect on all the years you get to play for a great organization here in Calgary and all the fun I've had so far in my career," Iginla told reporters following the game. "I feel very fortunate and blessed. My team was great to me and made it even more special for me and the guys on the other side, the Flames.
“I know at the start they're waiting for that and it's a little bit different, so I appreciate that. Definitely I wanted to come back and hoped it would be memorable and all the way around it was.”
It was also the perfect example of the thoughtful, classy leadership from the Bruins captain that’s neither contrived, nor calculated. Chara recognizes those special moments for both himself and his teammates, and that’s how you win people over in creating the dressing room chemistry that wins Stanley Cup titles.
It isn’t through rah-rah speeches straight out of the Kurt Russell hockey movies or doing showy, cosmetic things that might impress the media or the fans but don’t win over the guy sitting next to you on the bench.
Instead it’s about setting the example, and knowing the exact right moment to take actions that will the other players know that you have their backs. In Iginla’s return to Calgary, Chara had his teammate's back in the biggest way possible in ensuring the moment was everything the 10-year Flames captain wanted it to be.
That is how you get the guy next to you to give you everything he’s got when it matters come springtime.
“I can be disappointed in our game, but I can never be disappointed in this group of players,” Julien said of Chara’s actions. “I was in my office, so it was all [the players]. I didn’t know much about it, but that’s very typical of our team. They do that kind of stuff.
“Our upper management has done a good job of bringing in character and quality people, not just players. We’re a pretty close-nit family. We don’t get to where we’ve been two of the last three years without that kind of chemistry in our group.”
That group went out on the ice on Tuesday night at the Saddledome knowing it would be emotional, but also aware they were down six regulars with injuries and suspensions, along with a flu bug going through the team. Down 1-0 on the road in Calgary it would have been easy for Chara and Co. to write it off as a nice night for Iginla that wasn’t going to be so nice for the team.
Instead the Bruins did everything right on the ice, outshooting the Flames 15-5 and scoring two unanswered goals, and making all the classy choices off the ice that guarantee Iginla is a fully-invested member of the Black and Gold tribe now more than ever.