Calgary hockey fans bid farewell to Jarome Iginla, and remember him as both a leader for the Flames and the city

Jarome Iginla’s departure from Calgary has left a void in many Flames fans’ hearts. But it’s just as much what he did on the ice, as what he did off it, for how he’ll be remembered.

“Iggy,” as he was affectionately referred to by fans, holds all-time Calgary Flames records for games played, goals scored and points. But the former team captain, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, has been widely described as one of the NHL’s good guys away from the rink.

“What you see from Jarome in the media is what you get from Jarome 24 hours a day,” said former teammate Jamie McLennan, who had recently authored a book, The Best Seat in the House, about his experiences in the NHL.

More than a hockey player

McLennan, who is now a broadcaster on TSN, has been close friends with Iginla for over 20 years, and describes the former Flames captain as being a very engaging person to talk to.

Since 2000, Iginla has donated money from every goal he scored to KidSport, a program that provides financial support to help kids participate in sports. Mark Kosak, KidSport Calgary manager, estimates that Iginla has given about $700,000 to the organization.

Photo courtesy of FrenchKheldar/flickr.com

“Whether you meet him at Safeway or you meet him at the rink, he’s the same guy. He’s a class act from top to bottom. I’ve rarely worked with anyone like that,” McLennan said.

“People feel like they can identify with him on a personal level as well as a professional level, and I think that’s what he means to Calgary — everyone feels like they have a piece of Jarome Iginla.”

McLennan spent the better part of three seasons playing with Iginla before becoming a scout and an assistant coach with the Flames. McLennan says Iginla’s competitive nature also set him apart from his teammates.

“He used to have a group of us over to play Risk at his house,” McLennan said, “and you just couldn’t beat him. Everything was a competition to the guy. We’d be sitting there playing and he’d start trash talking us like we were on the ice.”

Charitable contributions

Iginla, who was traded to the Flames in 1995, also had a softer side he shared with his fans and several local charities.

“People feel like they can identify with him on a personal level as well as a professional level, and I think that’s what he means to Calgary — everyone feels like they have a piece of Jarome Iginla.”

– Jamie McLennan, former teammate

It was in 2004 that Iginla was recognized for his humanitarian contributions by winning both the King Clancy, as well as the NHL Foundation Award for community service. But, according to KidSport Calgary manager Mark Kosak, he’s been a dedicated community leader through his entire career.

“He’s a guy who always says the right thing,” said Kosak, whose organization provides financial support to help kids participate in sports. “Everyone respects him in the league, and everyone loves him in the city of Calgary.”

In 2000, Iginla partnered with KidSport and agreed to donate $1,000 for every goal he scored to the charity. Five years later, the Flames captain upped the ante by doubling his donation to $2,000 for every goal. In total, Kosak estimates Iginla has donated about $700,000 to the organization. He describes Iginla as a model athlete and a model citizen.

“He never did it for any kind of recognition or credit, and he doesn’t want us to give him any,” Kosak said. “It’s always just about trying to help the charity and trying to help the kids, and you’ve got to love a guy like that.”

Funds from the Jarome Iginla/Cassie Campbell Hockey School, which runs in Calgary during the summer, are distributed to a number of local and global charities. According to an article published on the Calgary Flames’ official website, the hockey school has raised over $130,000 since 2002. Among the charities, Iginla and Campbell’s proceeds ensured 38,000 lunches could be made for hungry children by Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids Society.

A personal connection

Mount Royal University student, Sarah Harrower, shares a moment with her hero, Jarome Iginla in 2004.

Photo courtesy of Richard Harrower

“He’s a whole-hearted ambassador to the city,” said the organization’s executive director, Tanya Koshowski. “Through hockey, he’s been a stand up leader with great work ethic, and outside he’s been a caring family man with very good values. He’s done a lot of great things for Calgarians, and he will definitely be missed.”

One of the many Calgarians touched by Iginla is a Mount Royal University student named Sarah Harrower. She met him when she was 14 years old at a Flames practice in 2004. Harrower, who has cerebral palsy, and uses a wheelchair to assist with mobility, identifies Iginla as her hero. The meeting was something she’ll never forget. But, the thing she’ll remember most about him was his selflessness.

“He brought so much to the city as a person,” Harrower said. “He taught me how to think about other people first, and what you can do to make their lives a little bit better and a little bit easier.”

mshilleto@cjournal.ca