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Giordano said trip to China will help grow the game but also give Flames head start on next season

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

The closest thing Mark Giordano has come to a Great Wall is Finnish, not Chinese, and forged from a cat-batting-a-ball-of-yarn quickness, a Gumby-esque flexibility and an almost zen-like competitiveness, not stone, brick, tamped earth and wood.

The fortification known as Miikka Kiprusoff, designed to keep out marauding armies of Oilers, Red Wings and Sharks, stands only 6-foot-2-inches tall. 

The fortification of the Ming Dynasty, designed to keep invading nomadic groups out of China, runs 13,171 miles long.

"You've heard how amazing it is,'' says the Flames captain of the Great Wall, counted among the New Seven Wonders of the World. "I mean, I think it's something everyone dreams of seeing.

"And now it looks like we're going to get that chance."

The opportunity has arisen thanks to the O.R.G. China Games, a pair of pre-season exhibition games in Shenzhen and Beijing, China, on Sept. 13 and 17, involving the Flames and Boston Bruins.

"You look at it and you're first thought is 'Whoa! That's a long way to go','' concedes Giordano. "And it is a long way.

"But talking to some of the other guys, this is a place not many of us have been before or would've ever imagined we'd be going to play hockey.

"So it's pretty cool.

"An eye-opener for a lot of us. A different part of the world. But a lot of fun, for sure."

Given the installation of a new head coach, Bill Peters, two as-yet-to-be-named assistants and the usual turnover in on-ice personnel, an opportunity to be away together so early in training camp, even as far as 8,700 kilometres, could provide a launching pad to an important opening to a season.

They're also being given enough recovery time - two weeks - returning home from 14-hour time difference to regain any mislaid equilibrium heading into the vital first push of the 82-game schedule.

"I think it lines up perfectly for us,'' says Giordano. "New coaching staff and obviously there'll be some new faces.

"This gives us a chance at a unique bonding experience. We're going to be away a week or more together and I know a lot of times during camp take trips to develop chemistry, right?

"We are going to do it a long way from home. But I don't think that hurts. It may even help. We don't speak the language and will be relying on each other."

The smaller number of players being taken on the China trip, essentially the core of what will make up the roster on opening night, gives the group a chance to develop chemistry earlier than most years.

"You come into camp every year and most of the time you're separated into three groups," says Giordano. "Sometimes you don't see your actual teammates until a few days before the season starts.

"That's just the way the scheduling works.

"I always found going away for a few days in camp is the best way to get the guys together."

The junket provides a heady mixture of the cultural and the professional.

"Now, having young kids, my wife and I try and shorten travel time, not extend it,'' Giordano laughs. "Typically when we get our breaks, even in the summer, we never think about travelling that far away.

"We're going to get to experience a very different way of life from our own. A great opportunity. But as a team, I really believe this is going to be beneficial, too. This is basically like going on a long road trip before the season starts. And you can gain a lot of momentum on those.

"So it should be a win-win."

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