CALGARY — It has been the hottest ticket in Calgary since the NHL schedule came out. Jarome Iginla, who never got to say a proper goodbye to his fans in the city, will return to the place where he is regarded almost as royalty.
“I think it’s just going to be electric, and when they put him up on the Jumbotron, he’s going to get a huge ovation, a standing ovation,” said Craig Conroy, Iginla’s close friend and a member of the Flames’ front office. “Who knows how long it’s going to be for? Knowing Jarome, he’ll be like, ‘Enough, let’s just go.’
“But it’s truly the game of the year for people in Calgary. That’s the way they feel.”
Iginla was swarmed by cameras and reporters when he walked into the Saddledome on Monday afternoon, turning toward the visitor’s dressing room instead of the one he inhabited for more than 15 seasons.
Iginla was traded to Pittsburgh on March 28 and signed with the Bruins in July. Tuesday’s game will be his first in Calgary since the trade.
He took some ribbing from his teammates for the reception, but it was good-natured. Most of them were looking forward to being part of the moment, to seeing a player likely bound for the Hall of Fame return to the team where he produced more than 500 goals, where he rewrote the team record book.
“It doesn’t feel like I’ve left,” Iginla said. “Honestly, it just feels like coming home.
“I haven’t put a lot of deep thought into [returning]. Just trying to enjoy it. . . . To see family, friends, familiar faces, just trying to come and enjoy it and play. Want to play well, and win.”
Iginla said his mother, who lives in Calgary, will attend the game, as well as his father. He said he’s trying not to have expectations of the reception that he’ll receive from the fans, but just hopes that it’ll be positive.
Conroy and Iginla planned on going to dinner Monday — a night that Bruins coach Claude Julien joked he’d relax the curfew for the former Calgary star.
“It’s going to be more of a celebration for him,” Conroy said. “Sometimes people come back and they get booed. I just see it being a real positive thing, for sure.”
He added, “You wish him well, but we still need Calgary to win that game. So you have mixed emotions. But it’s going to be very awkward seeing him step on the ice with a Boston Bruins jersey, for sure.”
Boychuk on ice
Johnny Boychuk sounded less than confident about his availability for the Flames game after Monday’s practice. The defenseman took to the ice for the first time since he was removed from Thursday’s game on a stretcher after suffering back spasms on a hit by Montreal’s Max Pacioretty.
Asked how he felt, Boychuk said, “I didn’t feel awesome. Haven’t skated in, what, five days? At least I got out there and moved around and got back on the ice.”
He later added, “Today it felt OK, at best.”
Julien seemed far more optimistic about the defenseman’s chances of playing in Calgary.
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet, but he felt really good the other day,” Julien said. “He was ready to go at it. The reason we haven’t called a defenseman up is because there’s a real strong anticipation that he’ll be ready to go.
“As you know, it wasn’t an injury per se, more than it was spasms. So once that goes away, he’s ready to go.”
The Bruins have no margin for error with their defensemen after sending Dougie Hamilton back to Boston after their 5-2 victory Sunday night in Toronto. They do not have an extra defenseman in Calgary.
Boychuk acknowledged that he still has stiffness in the back, which he said had not locked up in that way before Thursday. He did clarify that he was not having trouble breathing while down on the ice, though it certainly appeared that way.
“I was just trying to get up and I just couldn’t,” Boychuk said. “I wanted to, and then they told me to just stay down because they were going to bring the stretcher just in case something was bad and something was wrong with it.
“It’s a good thing that they were a little extra cautious because you never know what could be wrong.”
And Boychuk knows, too, that it could have been a lot worse.
“Still pretty stiff,” he said. “It’s been loosening up every day with the treatments and stuff like that. Hopefully we’ll see how it feels [Tuesday]. I’m not moving mountains, but it’s getting better every day, and that’s all I can ask for.”
’Tis the season
In addition to all their injury concerns, the Bruins now have to contend with illness. The team sent four players — Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller, Gregory Campbell, and Chad Johnson — back to the hotel Monday due to “the flu bug,” according to Julien. “We’ve had a lot of challenges on this road trip,” Julien said. Miller did not suffer any lingering ill effects from the hit from behind into the boards by Dion Phaneuf on Sunday, and is expected to play Tuesday . . . Phaneuf will have a phone hearing with the player safety department Tuesday. He was not penalized at the time of the hit.