If you follow the Calgary Flames, you’re very familiar with Mark Giordano’s journey to the NHL. But after being in Las Vegas watching him win the organization’s first ever Norris Trophy, that’s the one thing I kept thinking about. Giordano didn’t travel the typical road to the show, but nothing about Calgary’s captain is typical. He’s an outlier in every sense of the word, which makes his Norris triumph that much more remarkable.
“I wouldn’t have said much, I would have probably laughed a lot,” Giordano said when I asked him if he saw this coming at the age of 18. If you remember, Giordano was playing Junior ‘A’ hockey with the Brampton Capitals of the OPJHL after going undrafted in the OHL. It took that long for Giordano to pop onto the major junior radar.
“There were times where, you know, you can doubt yourself, especially as a young guy,” Giordano said. “I think as I got older, that went away. I started to believe in myself more. There were some tough times, it wasn’t always easy. I think going through going to Russia, going to the minors a few times, it makes you want it more and you know what it takes.”
Here’s the quick history lesson. Giordano was an undrafted Flames invite to summer development camp following his junior career. He was there with names like Dennis Wideman and Richie Regehr and earned a contract out of that camp.
But this was before a new CBA was ratified in the summer of 2005, so Giordano signed a three-way contract. That’s right; it was a contract with provisions to play in the NHL, the AHL, and the ECHL. And just as Giordano was working his way up the organizational ranks, he ran into his first contract impasse.
With 55 NHL games under his belt, Giordano left for Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League at the age of 22. How many guys go across the pond and still find their way back to the NHL, let alone to become an eventual superstar? And yet, when Giordano returned to North American for the 2008-09 season, he looked like a different player. He’d never spend another day in the minors and the ascension truly began.
“The last, I would say, seven or eight years I’ve really gained confidence in myself as a player. I think I’ve always taken a lot of pride in playing defensively and I think my game has a come a long way over the years. This year, for whatever reason, everything just came together offensively and defensively and I had a great year.”
In reality, though, it’s not one great year for Giordano. We’re talking about one of the league’s elite defenceman for the last six seasons, which just happens to correlate to being named team captain. The Flames have boasted one of the NHL’s best pairings virtually every year since that point, but there’s always been one common denominator: the captain.
Because of his journey, humility, incredible work in the community, and hardworking approach on the ice, Giordano struck a chord with fans in Calgary early on. That connection with the city has only grown, to the point where it’s hard to envision him playing anywhere else.
“It’s a hidden gem,” Giordano told me when talking about Calgary. “With the people in the city and the way they treat you and the way everyone cares so much about each other, it’s such a great place to grow and grow up really for me. Now to have my kids there, it’s even more special. You know, you win an individual award, but there’s a lot of people to thank behind the scenes who don’t get the credit. I’ll try to do that in the next little bit.”
I honestly have no idea what happens next for Giordano. Is he a Norris finalist again? Does the rise continue? Or is this the peak? Right now, the answer doesn’t seem to matter.