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Flames captain nominated for prestigious Mark Messier Leadership Award

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

No different than any red-blooded hockey fan over two generations, Mark Giordano can instantly conjure up a cameo-keepsake Messier moment.

"That's easy. The hat-trick in Game 6 against the Devils after he said: 'We will win tonight','' reminisces the Flames' linchpin defenceman. "That got so much attention.

"He says that, then he backs it up. And then they win the Cup. Spectacular."

Giordano was all of 11 years old and living in Toronto on May 24, 1994, when Mark Messier, hockey's Streetcar Named Desire, made his famous Joe Namath-like "guarantee" with his NY Rangers trailing 3-2 to New Jersey and heading back to the Meadowlands facing elimination.

They would and go on to win Game 6 on Messier's three goals, the series and end a 54-year Stanley Cup curse in Gotham by outlasting the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the final.

"Everybody here in Calgary thinks of him first and foremost as an Oiler but I remember him mostly as a Ranger. That was my growing-up time period. He's always been one of my favourite players. 

"He's one of the top-five greatest players in my mind. Of all time.

"I've had the pleasure to meet him a few times. He was our GM at the World Championships in Germany one year and he gave a speech …" Giordano's voice trails off in admiration.

"He's just one of those guys."


Now 33 and captain of an Alberta flagship himself, Giordano has graduated to being "one of those guys", too.

Thursday, he was named one of three finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award, honouring an individual who leads by positive example through on-ice performance, motivation of team members and a dedication to community activities and charitable causes

The other two nominees are Anaheim's Ryan Getzlaf and Columbus's Nick Foligno.

Messier, himself, chooses the winner.

Previous recipients include: Chris Chelios, Mats Sundin, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Daniel Alfredsson and in 2009, the icon who preceded Giordano wearing the 'C' here, Jarome Iginla.

Flames' assistant coach Martin Gelinas opened his NHL career as a teenager up north as a part of the Messier-propelled Edmonton Oilers. Now, of course, he tutors Giordano.

"I guess the cliché is leaders lead by example,'' says Gelinas. "But it's true. A true leader is someone who every day is willing to do the right thing for the benefit of the team.

"A leader knows when it's time to step it up, when it's time to change the momentum, when it's time to speak, how much and what to say.

"When I played with Mess in Edmonton, that's what he did. I was lucky enough to win a Cup at 19. You don't win a Cup without leadership. When a game was on the line, it was either Mess or Jari Kurri or Glenn Anderson that would step up.

"Mostly, it was Mess.

"Gio has a lot of the same qualities."

In his first year at the helm of the Flames, Glen Gulutzan is only too glad to tell you having Giordano installed as point man made his transition into the new gig far easier.

"When I came here, obviously I knew Gio was well respected across the league,'' says Gulutzan. "But for where we're headed, what we're trying to do, the way he plays and the type of person he is, we couldn't ask for a better captain.

"He's evolved to the point where team is more important than anything personal. One example: Early in the year, we were going to take a veteran defenceman to Vancouver in pre-season in a back-to-back situation. We didn't want to be caught short without an experienced D, just in case anything happened.

"Deryk Engelland was supposed to be that guy. As it happened, Deryk's wife and two kids were flying in that night. So Gio said: 'I'll go.'

"The other thing is great leaders feel personally responsible for wins and losses, for outcomes of games. He does that.

"He shoulders things for our group."

For Giordano, leadership takes on many forms.

"No. 1, for me,'' he stresses, "is setting an example. The guys I've looked up to can really catch the room without saying too much - when they say something, you better listen, right? It's mostly based on what they do, their attitude, how they conduct themselves. And most of all, their play on the ice.

"I've been fortunate to play with some great leaders in Calgary. Iggy's the obvious one. But there are others: Rhett Warrener, Robyn Regehr.

"Different personalities but leaders in their own way. On a team you need a bunch of leaders grabbing the reins, not just one guy."

The community/charity aspect of the award also pleases him. In his 11th season as a Flame, along with wife Lauren, Giordano started the 5-for-5 partnership with Habitat for Humanity and Team Giordano initiative alongside the Calgary Board of Education, among other endeavours.

"We should be involved in the community,'' insists Giordano. "We should give back. This is the city we play in. That makes it our home.

"We get such great support here. Getting older and more experienced, the other side of it is that you want to set a good example to the young guys coming into the organization, let them know what you should be doing."

Nearly 23 years removed from that 11-year-old Toronto kid being captivated by an NHL superstar's guarantee, Mark Giordano was tickled Thursday to be named a Mark Messier Leadership Award finalist.

It's not often a fella finds himself up for hardware named after one of his idols.

"It's pretty cool, to be honest,'' Giordano confesses. "When I got the call I was a little shocked. There are so many great leaders in the game. 

"I'm very honoured.

"I'm looking forward to talking to him at the awards, just to chat or shake his hand.

"As I said, he's always been one of my favorites.

"When I think of the term 'leader', Mark Messier immediately comes to mind."

 Takes one to know one.


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