CALGARY – Captain. Norris Trophy winner. Humanitarian. Calgarian.
Mark Giordano’s considerable investment in the city is complete, as Calgary is now officially home for him and his family.
“We sold our place in Toronto,” declares the NHL’s top blue liner of a decision to leave his parents and childhood friends for a full-fledged foray out west. “We’ll spend our summers here now. It’s a pretty cool city and a pretty great city to live in. I think I’ve developed so many friends and relationships in this city, and with your kids growing up and going to school here I can see it being tough to leave.”
Well, that’s an impossibly long time, especially in the hockey world where things can change on a dime.
Oh sure, there will be plenty of summer jaunts out east to visit family. But after years of summering in his native Toronto, Giordano and his wife, Lauren, decided to stay in their southwest Calgary home long after their kids’ school year ends.
“To me, he’s become synonymous with our city,” said GM Brad Treliving of his team’s heartbeat and engine. “And now, to be here full time, I think he looks at this as home. He’s really adopted this as their second home.
“For what he means to the franchise he’s meant as much for the city.”
To put the move in perspective, only two other teammates call Calgary home year-round: Michael Stone and Dillon Dube.
Hockey players around the league typically scatter following exit meetings, either to their hometowns or cottages. This move serves to not only further entrench him in the city, but further endears him to fans who pepper the Dome with No. 5 jerseys nightly.
“For everything he does on the ice he’s really continued that legacy of the Flames,” added Treliving. “There’s many alumni, hall of famers and Stanley Cup champions that have made Calgary their home and have had just as big an impact off the ice as on the ice, and that’s really what he has done here.
“He’s an elite player off the ice and has been an elite person off it. I do think that’s really cool he’s staying here – it shows again the standing now that he has within our community.”
The legend of the undrafted defenceman known simply as Gio grew exponentially last year when his career-best 74-point season, and league-leading +39, helped land him the Norris Trophy.
Not bad for a lad who had enrolled at York University in 2004 to study business after a junior career in Owen Sound that netted him nothing more than a summer-camp invite from the Flames he later parlayed into an AHL contract.
On Labour Day he was saluted by 33,000 of his neighbours, who stood and applauded at the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders game when Giordano appeared on the field with the prized trophy in hand.
“That was pretty special,” Giordano said of the latest love-in for a man who seamlessly took over the captaincy and leadership of the Flames after Jarome Iginla left in 2013. “That was cool of the Stampeders to do that. What a day.”
Ten days later, the soon-to-be 36-year-old topped the carts in the team’s annual fitness testing, re-emphasizing his declaration during his NHL Awards speech that he still feels “young and fresh.”
With three years left on a deal that pays him a team-high $6.75 million (like Johnny Gaudreau), the fitness freak is not only on track to play 1,000 NHL games (he’s played 833), but may very well be in for another contract after this one.
Is the move to Calgary part of a plan to stay on with the organization in some capacity after he retires?
“I think a little bit of it is that idea – it’s not set in stone – you know how hockey is,” said Giordano, whose 13-year stint with the Flames was interrupted by his bold decision to try bolstering his stock with a year in Russia. “We love the city, so Calgary is right up there with anything as far as when I’m done playing. But I’m hoping that’s a long way away.”
Until then, he’ll continue to do the sort of charity and community work that earned him ESPN’s Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award in Vegas in 2017. Five years ago, he added to his Habitat for Humanity work with the Team Giordano Project, which is a ground-breaking partnership to supply gym equipment, computers and mentorship initiatives for three high-need schools in Calgary. He and Lauren make regular visits with the kids to provide students with focus and encouragement in academics and physical fitness, as well as promote healthy lifestyles, leadership and community involvement.
He never turns down a media interview or makes excuses when things go sideways, as they did last spring when his West Conference champions were disposed of in five games by the Colorado Avalanche.
“You look at it 1,000 times in terms of what went wrong,” he said. “To me, we were playing not to lose in the playoffs, as opposed to the season when we were playing to win and were aggressive. And then the mentality switched as we became a favourite. You can’t have that fear of losing. You can’t sit back.
“I don’t think we played our game well throughout the series, but we did have two leads late in games and lost in overtime. Looking back, those probably cost us the series.”
Fans and prognosticators are unsure how to handicap Giordano’s group this year as there has been very little change to the core, save for the Milan Lucic and Cam Talbot additions and the looming absence of RFA Matthew Tkachuk.
He balks at the notion his Flames may have lost ground on some competitors over the summer.
“We finished first in the West with this group,” said Giordano of a 107-point team he has every reason and right to be proud of. “We have a good group and we’re built to play to our identity and we play it well.
“Adding Looch and Cam, I think, will solidify us. I don’t think people give Looch enough credit for what he brings to the room. I think he’s one of the toughest – if not the toughest – in the league, and he’s a great leader.”
Something Calgary’s most popular resident knows all about.