Johnson: Mark Giordano's rise no surprise to ex-Flames coach Jim Playfair


Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.

Photograph by: Gavin Young Gavin Young, Calgary Herald

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CALGARY - While the recent ‘discovery’ of Mark Giordano down east sometimes seems as if they’d just stumbled out of the jungle and onto the remains of Machu Pichu at dusk, those who’ve been here a spell are already up to speed.

They fully understand what so many others are only now cluing into.

For his time spent here as Darryl Sutter’s right-hand man and then a season as head coach of the Calgary Flames, count Jim Playfair among them.

“You could tell early on when I was here, he was going to be the next captain of the Calgary Flames,” the Arizona Coyotes’ associate coach said on game-day morning at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

“I mean, you could just … tell. I said that to a lot of people over the years. And that doesn’t make me a genius, by any means. It was just … obvious.

“Did I know at that time that he’d one day be this calibre of player? Of course not. But you could see the potential, the qualities, in him, almost right away. The way he carried himself, the way he worked on and off the ice. He’s got an air, a quiet demand, of excellence around him.

“So surprised? No. Not at all.”

If there’s a better all-around defenceman in the game at the moment than the Calgary Flames’ No. 5, he’s playing on a distant planet in some uncharted galaxy somewhere. For a few years now, Giordano happily sailed along under the radar, largely unappreciated outside southern Alberta, even as his game, his importance, began to evolve and expand.

This season, the statistics  - which get anyone noticed – have speed-dialed up to all those intangibles, and voila! Mark Giordano is suddenly all the rage.

People hereabouts know that even if the numbers start to taper off, though, the influence, the impact, is inviolate, unshakeable.

“There are players,” said Playfair, “that, as you move along in your career, you look at them and say: ‘They get it.’

“Gio gets it.

“Remember when he didn’t get the contract he thought he deserved and went over to Russia? He didn’t make a big noise, he didn’t sit out, didn’t go home, didn’t pout. I don’t think he went to Russia because he liked the weather there. I don’t think he went to Russia to learn Russian. He didn’t go to make a bunch of money. He didn’t do it to stick it up anybody’s butt.

“He went over there to play. Because the next best tier of players in the world and he’d done it at the American League level and he wanted to be better.

“That’s getting it.

“And in doing so, he proved himself right and the organization wrong.”

As an old, dues-paying member of the defenceman’s union himself, Playfair vividly remembers seeing Giordano for the first time, at a summer rookie-development camp that maybe a dozen defencemen attended. So much about the blueliner jumped out at him.

“I remember watching Gio, Richie Regehr and Steve Marr. And you know what, two or three days in, Darryl (Sutter) asks me: ‘Who do you like?’ And I said, remember this clear as day: ‘Giordano. He’s got great skill. Great feet. Once he gets in condition, I think he has a real chance.’

“Darryl met with three or four of those kids and gave them all the same contracts: Three years in the American League, and if you works out for you, you’ve got a career. Gio took it and ran with it.”

The importance of Giordano to this franchise, as even the uninitiated are coming to fully comprehend, simply cannot be understated.

He is the cornerstone, the future, the post-Iginla face of the franchise. A metronome for the group on the ice, at practice, in theory. A new standard they all aspire to.

His buying in to the project, to coach Bob Hartley’s vision of it, has helped moved the process along faster than anyone could’ve imagined.

“For a young general manager like Brad Treliving coming in here, it’s such a good situation: His captain’s his best player, his hardest work, his top citizen,” said Playfair. “Wow, just what you want, right? This is a guy you can build a youth movement around because the kids come in, watch Gio, on good days and on bad days, and learn the right way. He’s Bob can be Bob, do his thing, knowing that in the room, Gio’s gonna keep it on the straight and narrow; knowing that Gio’s got the wheel.

“I talked to Brad after he got the job here and told him ‘You’re going to LOVE Gio. You’re going to really respect everything this guy stands for.’ He called me about two weeks later and said ‘Boy, you were bang on.’ “

So f0r those who are only now ‘discovering’ Mark Giordano, sorry, you’re a little late to the party.

Follow George Johnson on Twitter at GeorgejohnsonCH

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano.

Photograph by: Gavin Young Gavin Young, Calgary Herald

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