It was the end of a disappointing season for the Vancouver Canucks. They finished five points out of the playoffs in 11th place in the West thanks to a 3-7-0 record in their final ten games, and the playoff-bound Calgary Flames ran up the score against them at GM Place. To top it all off, it was the last game long-time Canucks Markus Naslund and Trevor Linden would play in Vancouver. In the case of Naslund, this was mostly speculation to be confirmed by his retirement later that summer, but everyone knew Linden was stepping away from the game.
At the conclusion of the third period, the crowd erupted in a massive standing ovation for Linden. The Flames were celebrating their win and had begun to leave the ice as Linden skated around the rink, saluting the fans, when Jarome Iginla led Robyn Regehr and Kristian Huselius over the Canucks assistant captain. The rest of the team soon came off the bench and out from the tunnel to follow his lead, and CBC's cameras caught an intimate moment between Iggy and Linden. While the two, members of rival teams who had competed against each other so many times over the course of their respective careers, shook hands and embraced for the last time, Linden told Iginla, "you're the best player in the game." Later when Scott Oake pressed Iggy to reveal what Linden had said to him, he politely declined.
At the time, what Linden said was pretty close to true. Iggy had just scored 50 goals for the second time in his career. His 98 points that season were third in the league after Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin. He had also scored 30+ goals for the seventh consecutive season.
People in Calgary had always known the Flames had caught lightning in a bottle with Jarome Iginla. He was just mean enough on the ice to create space for himself and his teammates, and as anyone who had ever had the pleasure of meeting him even briefly would tell you, he was exceptionally kind off of it. This game, this moment cemented his status not only as one of the premier players in his age group, but as a great captain, and an all-around wonderful person.
Thank you for everything Iggy. It's been a privilege to cheer you on for nine years now, and I will happily continue to do so. The Penguins have gained a world-class teammate in you.
Now go get 'em.