Mark Giordano's non-traditional route to stardom offers lessons for others to follow

CBC

Six-year-old Jack Giordano cruises around the ice with his buddies in Timbits minor hockey, where the name of the game is chasing the puck around until someone whacks it in the net.

"I'm trying to teach him that stopping the puck is just as important, if not more important, than putting the puck in," says his proud papa, Calgary Flames defenceman Mark Giordano. "He understands. He takes it to heart when I say it to him.

"So he plays defence a lot, which is good. I want him to do that."

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Heading to the NHL all-star game later this month, Giordano is following his own advice this season on the Calgary blue line.

In 2018-19, the first-time Norris Trophy winner ranked second among NHL defencemen in scoring with 17 goals and 74 points in 78 games. The Toronto native also led the entire NHL with a plus-39 rating as his Flames finished first in the Western Conference.

This season, the Calgary captain has collected five goals and 20 points with a plus-1 rating.

"It feels like this year has been more of a tough grind offensively for myself," says Giordano, 36. "But I feel really good still on the ice and try to play well defensively."

After beating Minnesota 5-4 Sunday in a shootout, Giordano and the Flames (22-17-5) are clinging to a playoff spot. Going into Monday, they are tied with the Edmonton Oilers, who are also hanging onto a wild-card position in the Western Conference.

WATCH | FLames dump Wild in shootout:

For the Flames, inconsistency has defined a season that will likely be best remembered for the departure of Bill Peters as head coach amid allegations of past racist and abusive behaviour.

 "It's been a weird year for us, obviously the first half," Giordano says. "You just want to contribute and help the team win.

"We're not where want to be yet. We're getting closer but we have to pile up some points here before this break. The home stretch is important but it's really tough to gain ground."

Giordano knows how to gain ground the hard way. The Owen Sound Attack product is a poster child for all those undrafted players who refused to give up on their dreams. Unchosen in the NHL's entry draft in 2004, Giordano had gone so far as to enrol in business at York University before receiving a last-minute invitation to Calgary's camp that summer.

The six-foot-one, 200-pounder eventually muscled his way into the lineup in 2005-06. He saw spot duty until 2007-08 when the Flames still refused to sign him to a one-way contract. 

Went to KHL

In a move seen by many as foolhardy, he opted to fine-tune his game by playing a year in Russia with Moscow Dynamo of the Kontinental Hockey League.

The risk paid off when he returned the following season and claimed a full-time job in the Calgary defensive corps.

"He worked hard his whole career," Flames centre Mikael Backlund says of his captain. "He's still in great shape and he's such a tremendous person and leader."

Sophomore Dillon Dube figures he's receiving a free education on how to conduct himself as a professional simply by watching Giordano.

"He works his bag off every day," Dube says. "He's one of the first guys in and last guys out. It's awesome to see for us young guys. If you want to play at his age and not just be an average player, you've got to follow in his steps."

Age will eventually catch up to Giordano, like it does all of us. But his story — the one of an undrafted late-bloomer who became captain and won a Norris Trophy — will continue to inspire.

"I hope kids who don't get picked and aren't the best players on their teams realize — especially today — realize it's a different world," Giordano says. "There's so much more exposure for these young guys. If you're not drafted, it doesn't have to be a big deal. You get into a camp, a lot of games are televised, a lot of games are on the internet. So you'll be recognized. 

"With my own son playing now. I just tell him that if you have the passion and you want to keep playing, just keep going and have fun. See what happens."

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