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Five Questions: Flames' Giordano on road to the top

by Dan Rosen /'s Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano:

Mark Giordano's path to NHL stardom can be seen as either the blueprint for all fledgling professional defensemen or the envy of everyone who is or once was in his shoes.

Giordano, now a Norris Trophy candidate and an all-star, started as an undrafted defenseman out of the Ontario Hockey League and spent a year playing professionally in Russia. He has been a full-time NHL player since the 2008-09 season. He was a first-time all-star this season.

Along the way Giordano has figured things out about himself, his game, and about what makes the great ones in the NHL great. He has learned to play a two-way game without sacrificing what he does best, which is join the rush and provide offense. He has become a leader.

Mark Giordano is helping the Flames surprising push for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. (Photo: Gerry Thomas/NHLI)

Giordano entered Calgary's game Monday with 42 points to lead NHL defensemen in scoring this season. It was his 500th game, all in a Flames jersey. He's as big of a reason for the Flames surprising push for a Stanley Cup Playoff berth as anyone.

"I have made lots of good moves and bad moves in my coaching career, but I would rank putting Mark Giordano captain of this hockey club probably as the best move of my career," Flames coach Bob Hartley told in December.

Giordano spoke to about how he became an elite NHL defenseman.

Here are Five Questions with … Mark Giordano:

What are the keys to go from being an undrafted free agent to a Norris Trophy candidate, because I'm sure a lot of defensemen out there would love to know how you did it?

"When I was 18 or 19 years old the problem was I wasn't that good of a player, to be honest. I was more of a sort of run-and-gun riverboat defensemen. In junior I put up some numbers, but I learned a lot my first few years pro. I think it's very rare to be a Drew Doughty or an Aaron Ekblad, to come in and play that well defensively from a young age. That's very rare. I had to learn not to run around and make bad reads. It's been time, experience, playing a lot of games now. That's the big one for me, experience has made me a better player.

You talk about experience, so the year you spent in Russia, what kind of experience was that and how did it help you, if at all?

"From a hockey standpoint it helped for sure. I played a lot more minutes. I played against good players. That's a great league over there. It's a little bit different style of play, so I don't know how much that translates to our game over here, but maybe it also helped me put the game into perspective a bit. It wasn't all about the NHL anymore, I was trying to take care of myself at that point. I was a bubble guy and didn't know if I was going to make a living over here, so I went over there and thought I could try that. But the way it worked out was great because I ended up coming right back the next year and getting a one-way contract. I think it helped in both aspects."

Who helped you along? Who did you watch? Who are your mentors?

"I have had a lot of great teammates. Robin Regehr is one that comes to mind. Rhett Warrener is another. Guys like that for sure, but watching the great players in the game like Nicklas Lidstrom, all those guys, they don't run around and they don't make bad reads. They play a pretty simple game in their own end. Offensively, I have always had good instincts, but I had to learn a lot playing defensively. I'm trying to still learn. I know I'm getting older now, but you can still learn and I think the No. 1 thing is consistency."

Speaking about offense, coach Bob Hartley certainly doesn't restrict you, he lets you go, lets you have freedom to play offense. How does that help you for the type of defenseman you are and want to be?

"I think a lot of teams in the League are doing it now. There's not much off the rush. Teams backcheck, they watch tape, they do all of that well, so really your offense off the rush has to come from your fourth guy or your fifth guy. I think that's helped. The other thing that has really helped me is playing with Brods, TJ Brodie. I think sometimes you just click with someone and we've had some really good chemistry, especially offensively."

What has it like being the captain of this team, having to take over for a Calgary legend in Jarome Iginla? How difficult was that at first? How challenging?

"He's a Hall of Fame guy, so when you take over you have a little bit of nerves and anxiety. The thing that helped me was two things: We play two different positions so no one is expecting me to score 50 goals like Iginla, and I just think the stage we were at with our organization, sort of in a rebuild with young guys coming in. Iggy had a lot of pressure on him because expectations were to make the playoffs and go far in the playoffs every year, but I think now our organization is at a different stage. We're definitely going in the right direction. We're surprising some people, but we're not surprising ourselves, which is good."


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