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CHOMPING AT THE BIT

Flames captain eager to put last year's playoff exit in the rearview mirror and have an even stronger season this time around

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

A moss-thick residue of dissatisfaction remains. An outstanding wrong sits there in plain sight, in down-the-line need of righting.

"You've got lots of time - too much time - over a long summer and you spend a lot of that time wondering what happened, why we couldn't push through,'' Mark Giordano is explaining in the parking lot at Cottonwood Golf and Country Club, an hour or so away from a 12:30 p.m. shotgun start for the sixth incarnation of his annual Italian Open tournament, held in support of his charity, Team Gio.

"I turned the playoffs on occasionally after we'd been eliminated, but it was tough.

"Those first few weeks … man. Brutal.

"You're watching other teams, teams you're saying to yourself, and believing: 'We could've beat those guys …'

"But the reality is that they're still playing and you're not."

 

Video: Catching up with Gio at the Italian Open golf tourney

 

A five-game playoff ouster at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche will, he assures one and all, act as fuel (premium, unleaded) for an even further push this upcoming season.

"It felt, to me anyway, like we played not to lose in that series," reckoned Giordano. "We kind of strayed away from that aggressive style that made us tough to deal with all year, the style our coaches installed in us and we'd had a lot of success with.

"We sat back a little too much.

"As much as it sucks, maybe it's a lesson we had to learn. Hopefully that's the case."

If the collective end proved too quick and painful to a 107-point season of redemption, the long summer had some high points.

Not that he ran out to order a new set of embossed business cards, naturally, but 'Mark Giordano, Norris Trophy Winner' would certainly be appropriate to slide out of his wallet now.

He is, of course, the first Flame ever to be so fêted.

"Am I used to it yet? I don't think you ever get used to something like that," he reflects. "I mean, look at the names on that trophy: Lidstrom. Bourque. Robinson. Potvin. Coffey.

"You just never think of yourself in those terms.

"I mean, I think it has sunk in. And the whole week in Vegas was a really cool experience for me and my family.

"But I'm trying to turn the page now, get ready for this year."

 

Video: Gio on the upcoming season, Lucic and more

 

Fittingly, the Norris Trophy was on display at Cottonwood on Monday.

Giordano received a mind-bending 165 of 172 possible first-place votes to blow away the competition. His 2018-2019 campaign indisputably ranks among the finest by a Calgary blueliner, as shimmering as any since 1990-91, when Al MacInnis became one of only four men at the position in league history to reach and surpass the 100-point barrier, at 103.

One of MacInnis' teammates that season, Theo Fleury, just happened to be teeing it up at the Italian Open, too, on his home track.

"He was the best choice," says Fleury. "The only choice. Period. End of sentence.

"And given how old he is? I think what he did, what he accomplished, is great. Nobody's going to play to 35 anymore in this league. Nobody.

"Mark Giordano is an anomaly of where the league is going. But a lot of that is because of the player he is.

"He plays the old style - hard. Every night. I don't know how many friends he has outside of his teammates but it's not about having friends on the other team texting you before games.

"I mean, c'mon.

"He plays the way we used to. He would've been effective in the '50s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s. Name a decade. Name an era.

"He'd fit in. He'd thrive.

"There's not enough of that around anymore."

 

Video: Mark Giordano earns James Norris Memorial Trophy

 

With training camp hurtling towards us, Flames' GM Brad Treliving has so far made two moves to strengthen his Western Conference regular-season table-topping group, bringing in goaltender Cam Talbot and Milan Lucic.

"Both veteran guys who understand what it takes to be successful. Talbot a few years ago in Edmonton really stole the show,'' reminds Giordano. "A break here or there and the Oilers are going almost to the final that spring."

Mention the acquisition of the bruising Lucic to the skipper and No. 5 sounds like a kid afforded an early Christmas.

Only what's come gift wrapped under the tree isn't presents, but presence.

"Listen, I've played on a lot of teams. And having a guy like that around makes everyone a bit bigger, a bit heavier, a bit stronger, out there. He looks motivated and ready to go.

"We can intimidate by scoring goals and playing in the faces of teams. But you still, in my opinion, need THAT guy, the guy with presence. Looch can wither you with a glance. I remember one time near the end of the year cross-checking him front of our net. A harmless little love-tap in the back.

"But he wasn't too happy about it.

"Smitty tried to help me out, got into it with him. Quick right, quick left, quick right. Smitty said he had no idea what happened and he'd been hit three times by Looch.

"That's the kind of guy you want on your team."

So, as everyone hereabouts is fully aware, is a guy like Giordano.

"We weren't happy about the ending, obviously, but we still really like our group. I came out here from Ontario two weeks ago now, a little earlier than usual and it's been great," he says.

"We're on the ice, skating every day. At The Edge, Winsport and now at the 'Dome. So we've kinda been bouncing around.

"But I, and all the other guys I've talked to, are ready to go.

"Personally, I don't feel like physically much has changed over the last bunch of years.

"So looking forward to another good one."

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