Iginla eager to play in Saddledome again

Some athletes say they circle certain dates on the calendar, but Boston Bruins forward Jarome Iginla actually did.

Until he accepted a move to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline last season, Iginla had played his entire NHL career for the Calgary Flames -- a span of 17 years.

The 36-year-old future Hall of Famer returns to the Saddledome Tuesday night for the first time as a visiting player.

“Coming in it doesn’t feel like I’ve left,” Iginla told reporters after the Bruins’ practice Monday afternoon. “Honestly, it feels like coming home.”

Iginla accepted that trade to Pittsburgh in the middle of last season for a chance to win a Stanley Cup, something that had eluded him in Calgary. The Flames came close in 2004, but lost in the finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Penguins reached the Eastern Conference finals, but were stopped by the Bruins, a team he spurned in favor of Pittsburgh.

The Bruins reached the Stanley Cup finals with a four-game sweep of the Penguins before losing the Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks.

During the summer, Iginla was a free agent for the first time in his career. While he was testing the market, the Bruins suddenly were in need of a top-line right wing after Nathan Horton signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Iginla thought his chances of playing in Boston had come and gone. He thought he had burned that bridge already. Still, he had his agent contact Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who later admitted he was stunned by the phone call.

Both sides agreed Iginla would be a good fit in Boston, so a deal was struck and the Bruins signed him to a one-year, incentive-laden contract worth $6 million.

“Thankfully and fortunately there was interest and I was thrilled,” he said. “The Bruins obviously are a great organization, a top team. They had an opening and it’s a great sports city. I was just thrilled to have another opportunity to go there and I felt fortunate because I wasn’t sure if that opportunity was going to be there.”

When the Bruins’ team bus arrived at the Saddledome for Monday’s practice, it was as though the favorite son had returned. Iginla described the attention as “funny” and admitted he received plenty of ribbing from his current teammates.

Iginla said Tuesday’s game will be a thrill for him and his family, but said he doesn’t know what kind of reception he will receive from the fans.

“I don’t have a lot of expectation,” Iginla said. “I hope it’s positive. I feel that, in terms of parting ways, as far as leaving the team, I guess it was kind of coming and I don’t think there were a lot of hard feelings as far as I know. I hope it’s positive.

“I had great experiences here. I loved playing here. I’m going to enjoy playing here [Tuesday] and being back in the Saddledome.”

As a member of the Flames, he played over 1,200 games, scored more than 500 goals and played in six All-Star games. He reached the postseason only six times, and with the exception of 2004, the Flames never got past the first round.

Now that he’s returning to Calgary as a visiting player, he really hasn’t had time to think about his time as a Flame.

“It’s something I haven’t put a lot of deep thought into it,” Iginla told reporters. “Just trying to enjoy it. Just come back, and to me it feels like coming home. To see my family, friends and familiar faces, honestly just trying to enjoy it, play well and win. I’m not thinking anything more, just come back, enjoy it. It will be something I’ll always remember.”

He planned on spending Monday night at dinner in the city, but once he arrives at the rink in the morning for skate, he would be focused on the business of extending the Bruins’ winning streak to three games.

“I am enjoying it and I look forward to the game,” Iginla said. “It feels great to be back home.”