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NORRIS BUZZ

Mark Giordano's strong start to the season has those on the outside taking note

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Sometimes, drastic measures are a fella's sole recourse.

"I hid his skates the other day," confessed Flames' coach Bill Peters, on his only recourse to keep his captain from the ice when he wanted him to take a day off. "A couple weeks ago.

"Hid 'em.

"I couldn't pass it up. We didn't want him on the ice so I took his skates. That was it.

"I had to tell someone right away, in case I forgot where I put 'em, right?

"He wanted to skate and asked: 'Where are my skates?' I said: 'Can't tell ya. Or you'll go get 'em.'

"He's that kind of guy."

The kind you admire.

The kind you'd queue up to follow into a blast furnace.

The kind that leaves an imprint, a legacy, long after he's through playing.

Scroll back four seasons and Mark Giordano seemed the obvious frontrunner for a particularly prestigious hunk of individual hardware, the Norris Trophy, having amassed 48 points and a +13 ranking over only 61 starts.

Video: VAN@CGY: Giordano shows patience, buries wrist shot

Then, cruelly, a torn bicep in the dying embers of a game in New Jersey on Feb. 25, 2015, a freak play, accidentally tripping over Devils' forward Serge Bernier, cost him the remainder of the season and any shot at the honour.

Granted, we're early.

Not even one-third-of-the-way-through early.

But that faint, persistent noise stuck in your ears is the Norris buzz No. 5 has been generating thus far.

So often Giordano has seemed like this amazing secret only Calgarians are privy to. His core strengths - day-to-day consistency, the ability to excel in any situation - are difficult to gauge from an outside vantage point.

But those 24 points, a +12 and 24:31 average ice time per game over 25 starts so far this year are, quite simply, too tantalizing to overlook.

Throw in the Flames lofty perch atop the Pacific Division and he's getting some overdue broad-based recognition.

"The best players in the league know all about him," promised Peters, who this season returned to Alberta from the Eastern climes of Raleigh, N.C., to take over the Flames bench. "Doesn't surprise me at all, to be honest with you.

"He's real good player. An unbelievable leader.

"I've had a good pro like him before, in Nick Lidstrom."

In an age of gratuitous self-promotion, in which profile is too often mistaken for professional proficiency, Giordano continues to be a welcome throwback.

He's old-school in the all the best ways.

"Yeah, I feel good," is as much overt chest-pumping as you can coax out of the man. "You know what, being around a bunch of young guys like this group helps. We have fun.

"I don't know what to tell you. I'm put out in a lot of great situations, being on the first powerplay unit, for example. Things are clicking.

"Numbers are funny. People are fascinated by them. But I've never paid much attention, to be honest. The positive thing is that I don't think I've let my defensive game dip, even with the extra points.

"A lot of being good defensively these days is having the puck, moving the puck, holding the offensive blueline. A lot of teams defend by playing good offence. It's different than when I started. But I feel I can play that style of game. And we have a good team in the way.

"Hanging with these young guys helps an old guy like me feel young."

Video: WPG@CGY: Giordano bags a wrister to cut the deficit

There's no doubt those inside the local locker-room sure appreciate Giordano.

"Maybe people outside take him a little bit for granted," acknowledges centre Mikael Backlund, the second-longest serving Flame behind the captain.

"But nobody in here does, believe me.

"He's always our top player, year-in, year-out. This year's no different. What's made him stand out a bit more this year, I suppose, is that he's had a hotter start points-wise.

"If you're going to win the Norris, that's a factor, for sure. People always look at points.

"But for us, we know his value.

"In here, we love him. The city of Calgary loves him. We know how good he is."

Every once in a while, everyone on the outside takes notice.

"They're catching on," claims assistant coach Martin Gelinas, "because when you keep doing it, year after year after year, you get harder and harder to ignore.

"What makes Gio special is that he plays tough minutes. Go back to Lidstrom. He wasn't as physical as Gio, more about finesse.

"Gio is pure will and determination."

No Flame - not MacInnis, not Suter, not McCrimmon, not Regehr - has ever been called up on stage to collect the Norris.

And, yes, it's still early but …

"He's playing great,'' says Gelinas. "But then again, he always plays great. He doesn't seem like a different Gio to us.

"He's been around a while, sure, but he's not declining. He's climbing.

"To me, he is the ultimate leader."

And this is someone, remember, who can count icons the pedigree of Mark Messier and Jarome Iginla as former teammates.

"We were talking about Gio this morning,'' Gelinas continues "Just a salt-of-the-earth person. Humble. Proud. And always, always, a team guy first.

"You put him in a bigger market, out east, in Toronto, say, he'd get all kinds of recognition; would be a big, big star.

"And he is still a star, here. But for him to get that kind of league-wide (Norris) recognition, nobody could deserve it more.

"And long overdue.

"We're lucky to have him."

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