Johnson: Giordano set to be Flames everyman ... again
Versatile heart of the club’s defence can do it all and does on a regular basis
Mark Giordano is familiar with new Flames defenceman Dennis Wideman, but will he end up paired with him?
Photograph by: Lorraine Hjalte, Calgary Herald
In an age of ever-encroaching specialization, he represents a refreshing throwback. The all-purpose hybrid defenceman of yore. Outletting the puck. Joining the rush. Logging the decisive shifts; entrusted in the late minutes. Dropping fearlessly in front of 100 mph bee-bees. Wallpapering interlopers. Even shucking the mitts, if need be.
In this town, he has become the standard for the rest to emulate. The competitive conscience of a franchise.
His heart, his care, his commitment, are as wide, as deep, as expansive as a cloudless Alberta horizon.
Yet at 6-feet and 200 pounds, this is hardly a Pronger or a Chara or a Shea Weber. Solid, surely. Powerful, undoubtedly. But no godzilla. No goliath. No colossus.
If there’s any niggling concern whatever about Mark Giordano — and it’s the kind of concern 29 competing organizations would be overjoyed to find themselves dealing with — it’s that perhaps he puts himself out there, in harm’s way, too often, in his zeal to help, to lead, to make a difference.
As this tightly-packed, sure-to-be-frantic abbreviated regular-season approaches, does the Calgary Flames’ all-things-to-all-people defenceman need to perhaps pare down the smorgasbord of responsibilities on his plate? Mightn’t he have to pull a Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm? If only slightly, in order to avoid the wear and tear, the insidious erosion, that his raw, uncompromising style invites.
A minimally re-calibrated Giordano being vastly better than an injury-reserve-list Giordano.
“I don’t see myself changing my game, if that’s what you mean,” he responds. “You never want to put yourself at risk. But blocking shots is part of my game. And sometimes in hockey, emotions get high and fights are going to happen. And so be it.
“I don’t think size is an issue, if you’re in good body position all the time. If you have a good stick and things like that. I realize I have to be smarter about maybe not running into a corner so often for a big hit, but using better body position to contain guys. You look a lot of the good skilled defencemen in the league, guys who are solid defensively, they never get caught out of position.
“That’s the main thing.
“It’s not always about the big hit. It’s about popping the puck or breaking up the play with a quick stick.
“Look at (Niklas) Lidstrom. He’s the ultimate example. In my opinion he’s the best defenceman, ever. And the one thing about him: His positioning was always, always perfect. He could’ve stuck around until he was 60, the way he played.”
Still, staking out territory remains a vital part of the game. And scanning a defensive corps that — truculent Cory Sarch dissenting — looks to be heavy on manners, light on mean, there’s a quiet fear that Giordano will be only too eager to pick up the slack in the physicality department. Because no one could ever accuse the man of procrastination. He’s an initiator, quick to attend to whatever he feels requires immediate attention.
“Bottom line, we need him on the ice,” says left winger/centre Alex Tanguay. “In a short season like this, we don’t want him to go out and burn himself out. But I think Gio’s one of the better prepared athletes here. No, he’s not the biggest defenceman ever, but he’s a very strong guy physically. He’s a great asset, a key component, to our team; one of the best defencemen in our conference. Very, very, VERY underrated.”
One piece of advice that Giordano says he’s taken to heart came just the week from former teammate Craig Conroy and involved his unbridled enthusiasm to step in and take over in troubled times.
“You know he’s going to have the most shot-blocks on the team,” says Conroy. “You know he’s going to be up there in hits. In ice time. In ... everything. To me, though, when he keeps his game simpler, he’s better. Has more energy. Thing is, he takes everything so personally. If we’re down, he’ll try to do it all by himself, which — don’t get me wrong — is awesome. Still, to be effective, if you let people do their job and he does his, it usually works out better.
“Hey, it’s easy for me, sitting upstairs. But instead of rushing it every time, when he picks his spots he’s more effective. I told him: ‘I know how much you care. And I know it’s tough to rein it in.’ But, I said, if you could, it would help you, help us.
“In the heat of the moment, he wants to be the game-changer.”
That over-cooked take-charge attitude was, says Conroy, never more apparent than last season after Giordano returned from a hamstring injury suffered Nov. 29th. In his desire to make up for lost time, to aid the playoff-push cause, he admittedly struggled to find his best early on. Only when he settled down, began to let things happen rather than force, did the old Giordano re-emerge.
“I think Conny’s right about that,” acknowledges Giordano. “I plan on focusing more on little details like my stick and body positioning now, and making the simple play. When things are going well, I simply things and go from there.”
There are doubtless going to be tough nights between periods over the next three months when an exasperated coach Bob Hartley, brow furrowed, will be inside that Flames’ sanctum, scanning the lockers in search of more. More inspiration. More production. More try. More of ... whatever.
Mark Giordano’s, you can rest assured, won’t be one of them.
“Maybe we would like him to pick his spots a bit more,” concedes Tanguay, “because in a condensed season like this, with the minutes he’s going to play, it’s important he stays healthy; takes care of himself.
“As I said before: We need him in the lineup.
“But the reason Gio’s so good is because of who he is, what he does, how much he cares. The way he plays, with a lot of emotion and aggressiveness, is what makes him so effective.
“We wouldn’t want him any other way.”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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