Mark Giordano enters the coming season as one of the most important players on the Calgary Flames if they hope to remain competitive for a Western Conference playoff spot. With Robyn Regehr gone to Buffalo, Giordano’s role will be the largest it’s ever been on an NHL team. Yet, added responsibilities aren’t anything new for Gio, who has seen the importance of his role increase on a yearly basis. To this point, the soon-to-be 28 year old defenceman has passed every test with flying colours, making him one of Calgary’s most popular players along the way. So where did things all start for the undrafted Giordano?
It’s been a pretty remarkable ten year time capsule for Mark, who was playing for Brampton of the OPJHL one decade ago, with the NHL a far off final goal. After one year of Junior ‘A’ hockey, Giordano would put together two very strong years with the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack, putting up 48 and 49 point seasons. However, Giordano would be like many other talented players who would go largely unnoticed by scouts; he’d have to the route of the undrafted free agent.
"In those days, it was more looking to get an education maybe, or just get something positive out of hockey," Giordano told me when we spoke earlier this month. "You don’t really believe until you get the phone call that you have a pro contract or a pro tryout, and then for me, I wasn’t drafted so to get a contract was really exciting."
Mark started his major junior career a little later than most, catching on with Owen Sound when he was 18. The more highly touted prospects tend to start around 16, which is one reason why there was less buzz surrounding Giordano throughout his time in junior. He considers catching on with the Attack in the 2002-03 season the real start on his journey to prominence.
"That’s where I caught a big break," Giordano said. "I came into an organization, I was an 18 year old and got a really good opportunity through our GM Mike Futa and Mike Stothers, who was the coach at the time, they really took me in and taught me a lot about being a pro and how to be a pro."
And yet, not being drafted, being a pro hockey player was no guarantee for Giordano after seven rounds of the NHL Entry Draft came and went without him being selected. While playing hockey at the next level was still the ultimate goal, Mark was already looking at other options, just in case.
"I was getting my together my university package, and I was going to go to a local university here in Toronto, and Tom Webster (Flames amateur scout) contacted my agent and said ‘we’re looking at signing Mark and we just want him to come out to a summer development camp and go from there…I thought it was a good opportunity and went to the prospects camp, and I think seven of us signed at the same time that year."
Seven players did sign that camp, as Giordano joined fellow defenceman Richie Regehr and forwards Davin Heintz, Justin Taylor, Dustin Johner, Patrik Nilson, and Carsen Germyn. Of that group, only Giordano has played with any regularity in the NHL, something he credits to man no longer with the organization.
"We didn’t sign any big contracts," Giordano told me. "We all pretty much signed the same contracts, and Darryl (Sutter) said to us, he said if you guys show you can play, we’ll give you every opportunity, and I respect him a lot because he stuck to his word."
It was odd timing for Giordano, who started his professional career the same year the NHL shut business down due to labour issues with the Player’s Association. Instead of competing for a job on the big team and going through a full training camp, Mark played in the American Hockey League during the work stoppage in Lowell, Massechusetts. That year, the Lock Monsters (now the Devils) shared affiliation with the Flames and Carolina. It was the Hurricanes man behind the bench, with Tom Rowe serving as head coach.
"He was a real hard nosed coach, and he expected a lot out of everybody," Giordano remembers. "It was a real eye-opener going through his practices, and his video and everything he expects out of players, it was great, he’s a great coach…they really showed a lot of us down there the main thing is hard work, and then from there you let everything else fall into place, but without the hard work I don’t think too many players succeed in pro hockey, so that was a good eye-opener for myself."
Once the NHL resumed play to start the 2005-06 season, things really started to progress for the then 22 year old Giordano. He saw his first NHL action that season, playing seven games with the Flames before spending most of his time with the big club the following year; Giordano played 48 regular season games in 2006-07 along with four playoff games in Calgary’s first round loss to Detroit.
That’s where the story takes a decidedly eastern European turn, as part two of our three part series will focus on Giordano’s decision to go to Russia, and the reasons behind his one season with Moscow Dynamo. While many point to that situation as an indictment of Darryl Sutter, Mark has a much different take on how the whole thing went down.