How one season in KHL helped Flames’ Giordano develop ‘a lot’

Mark Giordano joined Hockey Central and spoke about the possibility of hitting the 1,000 games played milestone, and why he relishes the chance to perform in the playoffs even more.

“One time downtown I saw a guy walking a bear on a leash.”

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano took an unconventional path to the NHL and gained some unique experiences along the way – especially during his one season in the KHL.

Giordano played minor hockey in Ontario, working his way up from the from the GTHL to the OPJHL to the OHL. He played two seasons with the Owen Sound Attack but went undrafted. His junior career did, however, net him an invitation to Flames’ training camp, where he impressed enough to earn a contract and spent the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons with Calgary’s AHL affiliate, even sprinkling in a handful of NHL games.

He spent more than half of 2006-07 with the Flames, but was at a turning point in his career after that season. So, he decided to sign with Moscow Dynamo in the KHL and spend the 2007-08 season playing in Russia.

“I was a borderline call-up guy at the time with Calgary,” Giordano said Friday during an appearance on Hockey Central. “I was 23 turning 24 and I was like, ‘Man, I gotta take care of myself. I got a life to live here and I gotta figure this out which way it’s going to go,’ so I went over there prepared to stay there and if I had to make a career in Europe I was going to do it.

“Went over there not knowing what to expect and the lifestyle was tough. The language barrier, people don’t realize how tough that is and you gain a lot of respect for guys who’ve done it the other way and come to North America from Europe.”

Giordano played 50 games in a Dynamo uniform, registering 13 points and 89 penalty minutes.

“The hockey side of it, everyone thinks it’s way more skilled and way more wide open – the guys are really skilled over there – but the game’s actually a lot like how the Olympics were in Sochi,” Giordano said. “You gotta pack it in, everyone sort of traps and plays in between the dots, so it’s actually less scoring over there.

“But in saying that, I got a lot of ice time, a lot of playing time, a lot of good experience. The team treated me really well and had a good year. I think I developed a lot over there, so it was pretty cool, but the lifestyle was tough. I’m not gonna lie.”

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Some of Giordano’s teammates that year included NHL veterans Danny Markov, Vitali Yachmenev, Dmitry Afanasenkov, Eric Landry and Sergei Fedorov’s younger brother, Fedor.

“We had our practice facility and they’d feed us three times a day over there, but there’s the veterans who go first and they take all the good stuff and then they leave the scraps for everyone else,” Giordano added with a chuckle. “It was funny. They do things differently like I never realized drinking tea in between periods was a thing. Hot tea to stay warm and stay energized.

“My sticks would get stuck at the border every time and go missing, so I was using a different curve and different stick. … For the whole year, I was using basically not my stick. Little things like that. Definitely was an experience that’s for sure.”

Giordano added six points in nine playoff appearances for Moscow and won the Spengler Cup with Canada while overseas.

Following that 2007-08 campaign, the Toronto native signed back with the Flames on a three-year deal and didn’t play another game in the AHL. He earned a five-year contract extension in 2010 and eventually developed into one of the NHL’s top blue-liners.

He inked a lucrative six-year extension in 2015 and won the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenceman for 2018-19 after registering a career-high 74 points and an NHL-best plus-39 rating.

It may never have happened without him taking a leap of faith and gaining that KHL experience.

“I developed a lot later than other guys, but always had that passion to play.”

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