Bret Hart honors Jarome Iginla, cites inspirational jersey gift

Jarome Iginla, whose number was retired by the Calgary Flames on Saturday, inspired many during his 20-year NHL career, as an offensive star, a captain and a role model. For former WWE and WCW superstar Bret "The Hitman" Hart, he offered a different kind of inspiration, at a critical time in the pro wrestler's life.

In 2002, Hart suffered a stroke while riding his bicycle in Calgary, ending up in a local hospital with limited mobility on his left side. The prognosis for recovery was good, but the road back was going to be arduous. So Hart was touched when Iginla, entering his seventh season with the Flames and coming off an NHL scoring title, visited him in the hospital with a signed jersey.

The autograph read: "To the 'Hitman,' Our team's thinking of you! Best wishes, Jarome Iginla."

Hart, a Calgary native, posted a photo of the jersey on Instagram to celebrate Iginla's jersey retirement. "I've always treasured it because it meant so much that he and his wife visited me in the hospital during such a challenging time in my life. Congratulations on the jersey retirement and thank you for so many great seasons. All the best to you, Kara, and your family," he wrote.

In 2004, Hart credited the jersey with helping to inspire his recovery. "Since then, I've been blessed with a pretty darn good recovery and I've been wearing the jersey Jarome gave me to each and every playoff game. I even wear it while I'm watching the games on TV. And now it's me who's thinking of the whole team," he wrote on Slam! Sports.

Hart has had a long history with hockey. In 1994, while wrestling in the WWF, he founded a Western Hockey League team in his native province that took the inspiration for the nickname from him: The Calgary Hitmen.