Saturday, 2 March 2019

The Greatest Honour

It's an honour that not many receive from a team. One has to do some incredible things in a uniform at the NHL level to be honoured as Jarome Iginla was honoured tonight by the Calgary Flames as his #12 will likely never be worn again by a Flames player again. Jarome Iginla was the engine that drove the Flames for so many years, and tonight he was honoured by the team where he was a star for so many years in his NHL career.

His career saw him play in Calgary, Pittsburgh, Boston, Colorado, and Los Angeles as an NHL player. He went to Salt Lake City and Vancouver to represent Canada in the Olympics, winning gold both times. He won a World Junior Championship gold medal in Massachusetts, and a World Championship gold medal in Finland. He's been all over the planet in pursuing hockey excellence, but it was 16 seasons in Calgary where the world discovered Jarome Iginla's excellence.

His speech talked about that pursuit of excellence, and I'd say he encapsulated that pursuit beautifully in his speech tonight.

"As an athlete you push and push and try to be positive and always envision it will happen," Iginla told the sold-out crowd inside the Saddledome. "I believe you have to be that way in life and in hockey, so I'll admit it bothered me a bit. But after taking some time to reflect on my career with my family and friends, and adding a dose of gratitude, I know I did win. And I'm not talking about the goal that didn’t count in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final that Gelly scored.

"I won over and over again, every day for the 20 years I played in the NHL. I won all the days in minor hockey growing up in a program like St. Albert, then playing junior hockey in a great hockey place like Kamloops where I learned and grew so much. I won playing professionally in a first class organization the Calgary Flames that's built upon family, community and leadership. At the end of the day to me a big part of life is about memories, friendships, challenges, and giving your all. I got to do all that in Calgary playing with the Flames, with the fans and my teammates. I did win."

That, folks, is why he is one of the greatest of all-time. Yes, he never won a Stanley Cup and that may haunt him in retirement, but he can look back on two decades of professional hockey and a lifetime of hockey memories that not only highlight every day of that pursuit of excellence, but enhance it through the interactions and experiences with family, friends, teammates, and fans. That speech is one of a champion regardless of whether one won or not.

Only Mike Vernon and Lanny MacDonald have had their numbers raised to the rafters in the Saddledome before Iginla. Iginla's impact in the city cannot be understated as he finished his career with 625 goals and 675 assists in 1554 games of which most came in a Flames uniform, but the bigger legacy is the $800,000 he personally donated to KidSport Calgary while playing there. That money has been used to get countless kids into sports programs, and the secondary effects of having those kids help other kids find sports programs will mean that donation will help KidSport benefit for a long time.

Jarome Iginla will always be a champion to this Canadian. The only honour that still needs to be bestowed upon him is a place at the Hockey Hall of Fame. That likely isn't far off.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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