Friday, February 5, 2010

Flames vs. Panthers--Mr. 1000

The Calgary Flames have won two of their past three games. That puts a positive enough spin on things, doesn't it?

In a 4-1 win over the Hurricanes on Wednesday night, the new Flames finally got the warm welcome they deserved after a less than inspiring effort against the Flyers on Monday night.

Now, they hit the road for a three-game tour of the Eastern Conference, starting in the Sunshine State with games against the Panthers and Lightning. Matt Stajan scored a beauty for his first as a Flame, which also proved to be the game winner, and Ales Kotalik set the tone with a hard hit on the 'Canes Andrew Alberts to start the game (this is actually a video of Regehr sending Kotalik flying into the Sabres bench, because I couldn't find a video of the other hit. Entertaining, nonetheless)

Today, however, is not about the new Flames. Quite the opposite. Today is about the man who has set franchise records for most games played, most goals, and most points. The man who, since a mid-nineties trade brought him to the Flames as a young prospect, has arguably been the face of this franchise. The man who twice scored fifty goals with little to no offensive support and came within one win of leading his team to its second Stanley Cup. Today is about Jarome Arthur-Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla, Mr. 1000.

There are many memories that stand out when thinking of Jarome Iginla's NHL career: His first game as a Flame, a playoff game against the Blackhawks in 1996, in which he registered an assist. His fifty-two goal season, culminating in him being awarded the Art Ross, Lester B. Pearson, and Rocket Richard trophies.

Being named captain in 2003 and subsequently leading his team to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup finals, leading all playoff scorers with thirteen goals.

During the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, Iginla broke franchise records for most games played, most goals, and most points, surpassing Al MacInnis and Theoren Fleury, respectively. He scored his four-hundredth goal in a losing effort against the Tampa Bay Lightning in March of '09.

In 2007-08, Iggy would go on to score fifty goals in a season for the second time in his career, culminating in one of my all-time favourite memories. After scoring his fiftieth goal in the final game of the season, Iginla lead his team in a salute to an outgoing Trevor Linden (around the 4:50 mark).

This game cemented Iginla's status as one of the best players in hockey. This moment cemented his status as one of the best people in the game. I will always remember coming home from vacation just in time to catch the last few minutes of this game, watching in speechless awe as Linden received a rousing standing ovation, and Iggy skated towards him and led his team in shaking the retiring veteran's hand, one by one. Players that had already entered the dressing room reemerged to follow their captain's lead in one of the greatest displays of sportsmanship in recent memory. The fans at GM Place reciprocated, cheering when Jarome scored his fiftieth goal and when he was named the second star of the game. In the storied and nasty Flames-Canucks rivalry, this moment stands out as one of the more warm-fuzzy variety in its history.

The 2008-09 season was largely a forgettable one for Iginla and his teammates, and some began to wonder if, at age 32 and having played the way he has for thirteen seasons, he was starting to wear down. His goals and points now seem to come in bunches, but he still has the ability to change a game with one pass, one shot, or one fight. He has survived playoff droughts, trade rumours, contract negotiations, and personnel changes, and through all of it has grown into the calm, classy, well-spoken leader that Flames brass envisioned when they acquired him from the Stars fifteen years ago.

Here's to you Jarome; 1000 games, and many more to come.

Puck drop is 5:30 on Sportsnet West. Jay Bouwmeester will be celebrating his 400th consecutive game against his former team and Curtis Glencross, his 200th NHL game. It is indeed a night of milestones that will hopefully culminate in a "W." I'll be at work serving wine to a bunch of pretentious suburbanites, so indulge in nostalgia and cry your eyes out for me.

Go Flames Go.

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