I remember discovering Jarome Iginla when I was eight years old.
He was in the midst of his 52-goal, 96-point season in 2001-02, and the more I watched him play and read about him in the Toronto Star sports section every morning, I knew he was my favourite player.
For a young Calgary Flames fan growing up in Toronto, it wasn’t easy being teased everyday at school about my team’s long playoff draught. But the 24-year-old star who was seemingly taking over the NHL gave me hope that brighter days were ahead.
Little did I know that Jarome Iginla was about to become the greatest Calgary Flames player of all time.
After all, what kind of an all star, in any sport, stays with a struggling team for that long?
But that’s the type of role model that Jarome Iginla was in 16 seasons with the Flames.
That same season, I happened to be doing a class project on the Saddledome, and was fortunate to make some contacts in the Calgary Flames office.
Having mentioned that Iggy was my favourite player on the team, I was soon sent multiple items of Flames paraphernalia, signed by Jarome and personally addressed to me. Over the years, I even received a signed Jarome Iginla poster, in which he called me his #1 fan in Toronto.
But Iggy was always more than just my favourite hockey player. He was, and still is, my hero.
He was the reason I’d rush to my minor hockey games at the beginning of the season to make sure I got the #12 jersey on the team. And even today as a university student playing intramurals, he’s the reason I still do.
When it was announced that Jarome had been traded last Thursday night, it felt as if a huge piece of my childhood had been ripped out.
It pains to me to say that Iggy will never win the Stanley Cup as a player for the Calgary Flames, nor will he play out his entire career with the team he captained for so long.
But at the end of the day, I am so thankful for having had the opportunity to watch, and cheer Iggy on as I grew up.
The memories I have of him in Calgary, whether it was the 2004 Stanley Cup finals run, his Rocket Richard years, or just the wide grin he always had on his face when talking to the media, will surely last forever.
Go win the Cup, Iggy. No one deserves it more than you.