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GIORDANO DRIVING THE FLAMES' SUCCESS

The Flames captain has been instrumental in the team's ability to turn things around and climb up the standings

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Competitive example. Emotional fulcrum. Professional conscience.

Mark Giordano, back to his very best. As good at it gets.

Captain Complete, at your service.

"You know when I knew I'd made the right choice about taking this job?'' confesses Calgary Flames' coach Glen Gulutzan, in his office on an off-day down at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

"After my first conversation with Mark Giordano."

He does tend to have that effect on folks. Through his example, his on-ice play, his commitment and care, the everything-is-going-to-be-okay, it's-taken-care-of sense he evokes.

As the Calgary Flames continue to stride purposefully up the Western Conference standings, Giordano has regained that pre-torn-bicep form of two seasons ago, when he seemed a virtual lock to claim the Norris Trophy as hockey's best defenceman.

A number of factors, it must be said, are very much in play as the current edition tries for a franchise-topping 11-game win streak Wednesday against Boston: Brian Elliott's Scrooge-like temperament. The continued excellence of the 3M Line. Johnny Gaudreau's magic wand back up to full pixie-dust wattage. A collective structure buy-in. TJ Brodie finding his rhythm again.

But never, ever, overlook Giordano's understated, underrated part in the whole enterprise. Never doubt that it all goes, all flows, through No. 5.

He's always solid.

Right now, he's even solid-er.

Video: MTL@CGY: Giordano buries Tkachuk's great feed

"This last stretch, maybe two and a half months, reminds me of that entire year two seasons ago,'' lauds assistant GM Craig Conroy. "You watch him and you're like: 'Wow! This guy just might be the best defenceman in hockey.'

"He's back in that groove. Making plays. The hit on (Dustin) Brown. The late goal in Vancouver to tie the game. Doing everything.

"His shot's back to the effectiveness that year, where it's really coming off his stick.

"When he's competing and when he's in a good place like he is now, he's one of the top five in the league. I know that point but in terms of a complete player, he's tough to argue against.

"Gio does it all."

The wares are on display for all to see: 30 points, three game-winners among his 10 goals, an inexhaustible supply of energy and, most impressively, a team-topping plus-17 rating.

"It's funny,'' said Giordano on Tuesday, after obliging a few couple fans with autographs and a photo-op inside the Flames' room, "you get more recognition when you up numbers. And rightfully so. But I feel like this year, new system coming into play and everything, defensively I've tried to up my game.

"Dougie (Hamilton) and I know we're going to be matched up against the best lines usually, night in and night out. I honesty feel good about plays I'm making in the d-zone, moving the puck.

"Offensively, it's funny, it's a matter sometimes of getting those assists, those tip-ins to get the numbers inflated a bit.

"I'm really trying to take on that role of a good shut-down guy who plays against other teams' top playrs.

"And plays on a playoff team."

Video: LAK@CGY: Giordano lays a big check on Brown

His impact on Hamilton's revival cannot be underestimated.

"He's a multiplier,'' is the way coach Gulutzan explains Giordano's influence on whoever is lucky enough to be partnered alongside him.

"You put people with him, he makes them better. I don't know if there's anything better you can say about a person. Or a hockey player.

"He's truly a leader in the fact that he cares more about the betterment of the group than anything. He's matured to a point where there's nothing personal he wants more than team accomplishment.

"Ultimate competitor.

"The way he defends, defends, plays against top guys and never takes - not for one moment, not one breath - off … he's certainly as good as any defenceman I've ever coached."

In the late '80s, on the great Flames' teams of yore, Brad McCrimmon, the Beast, filled the same role. Over the span of his playing career, the late, sorely-missed McCrimmon tutored superb d-men the calibre of Gary Suter, Chris Pronger, Mark Howe and Nick Lidstrom. 

Whoever played alongside the uncompromising, slope-shouldered from Plenty, Sask., watched, listened, learned and improved.

That mentorship role is one Giordano takes on willingly.

"I do. For sure. After playing with Brods for so long, to see him develop so much has been really rewarding. Dougie's such a young player, playing such a big role on our team, I think I can help him with a few areas on the mental side of it.

"But he has such great tools, he's right up there. For me, he's trending into one of the top guys in the league."

Video: CGY@NSH: Giordano banks in OT winner off a skate

Learning from one the top guys, points out Flames' GM Brad Treliving, accelerates that trending.

"Gio's at an elite level,'' he says. "When a player gets to this level it's not how he impacts the game so much as the way he drags other people up to that level with him.

"TJ's a helluva player. Two years ago we saw what they did together. We see what (Giordano) and Dougie are doing together now.

"TJ and Dougie are top players, don't get me wrong, but the common denominator here is 5. He impacts the game not only with his play but to be able to have your game pull others along to that level is a rare thing. You're forced to play at a certain standard to match him or get left behind.

"That's a rare group.

"With this guy, it's not just 7 to 10 on game nights, either. It's 10:30 to 11:30 or 12 every practice day, too.

"In my opinion, you can stack his game right up there right now with anyone's."

For Giordano, this run, a push into the playoffs, represents a measure of payback.

Two springtimes ago, after all, after undergoing surgery on the bicep he was forced to sit and watch as a city swooned, entranced by an upstart team that reached heights no one had predicted.

Kinda like …

"Honestly, as you get older, you play for this,'' he says wistfully. "The games like yesterday …

"I'll tell you, I'd rather be here, right now, in this spot than have 70 points and not make playoffs.

"It's just a great feeling.

"Since I've been here, we've only been in so many times since.

"We're having fun with it. But you can sell the older guys embracing it because we know you start running out of time.

"You only have so many more cracks at it."

Captain Complete. Back to his best.

 As good as it gets.

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