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Flames Legend Iginla Remains A Key Face Of The Franchise

The Calgary Flames need new blood in the front office and Jarome Iginla should be at the top of the list for talks before his current coaching deal runs its course.



Jarome Iginla spent the day in Chestermere on Saturday, coaching kids and meeting many of the Calgary Flames fans who may be even more loyal to the legend himself than the franchise.

He showed them why with yet another example of his dedication to people. Iginla had a ‘hard out’ cutoff time of 5:30 p.m. to catch a flight out. The line in the Calgary bedroom community’s multipurpose room at the rink was massive, and there was only about an hour to go when I showed up. It was lined with older fans, young kids, and some of the community business owners all waiting to get an autograph and a photo from their hockey hero.

I was second last in line, not wanting to interrupt his day but eager to say hello in person for the first time in years. My daughter joined me and I told her some stories about Iginla. Not about his hockey skills, which are plentiful, but his kindness. Seeing the growing line and with an eye in the ticking clock, event organizers made their way to the back of the line to warn everyone that Jarome had to leave at 5:30 p.m., and that there was a chance he wouldn’t get to sign for all.

Everyone stayed. Security closed the doors. Iginla signed, posed and chatted as the line plodded through.

I thought back to my first year on the Calgary Flames beat with the Calgary Sun when I was on the team charter and buses. The rule for reporters was never be last on the bus. Head coach Darryl Sutter would happily leave you behind. But with Iginla on the team it was never a worry. It didn’t matter what city we were in, he stayed, signed and chatted with all who waited near the exit after games, until all had their souvenirs.

In Chestermere on Saturday, 5:30 p.m. approached. There was no way he’d get to all who remained. In typical Iginla fashion, Jarome pushed the limits, gave every spare moment to his fans. No one was leaving empty handed. Organizers told the remaining groups to have their cameras ready. Iginla continued to sign. He had a flight to catch, but didn’t hurry anyone as his ‘hard out’ deadline came and went. Iginla kept signing, chatting and posing.

My turn came. A few extras had found their way to the back of the line, but Iginla didn’t bat an eye. He was in OT.

I’m 10 years older since Iginla left town, and haven’t aged half as gracefully as Jarome, who looks like he could still suit up and be one of the team’s top five players. It took just a split second before he recognized me once he got up to greet us. I introduced my daughter. He asked questions. Lots of them. I joked with his ‘handlers’ a couple minutes before about how they must be calculating how fast they’ll have to drive to get him to the airport in time. They now know how Sutter felt in 2005 on the team bus waiting to depart the arena.

It felt like he was willing to chat for as long as we’d like. Asked about my hockey writing, whether my daughter played hockey. He laughed loudly at her response (she’s a huge hockey fan but more comfortable in figure skates). I might have been one of the few people in that line he knew previously, but he made everyone there feel like he wanted to get to know them.

The thing is, he does. He’s genuine.

The organizers of the event — Giuseppe’s Practice with a Pro contest — snapped a dozen pictures of our interaction. My favourite was candid, not posed. I think it was after my girl told him she would never play hockey.

With the Flames at another crossroads, Iginla again showed he’s still one of the faces of the franchise. And with his commitment to RINK Hockey Academy up after next season, Murray Edwards and CSEC should be opening the lines of communication up well before Iginla is a free agent. His first NHL job is surely just around the corner. Any team would be lucky to have him, in any capacity he’s willing to take on.

The Flames, more than any organization, needs the atmosphere his presence creates.

Class act. Hall of Famer in every way. I hope he gets his Cup one day.

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