A familiar face strode into the Saddledome from the Seattle area Wednesday morning with a bounce in his step, a smile on his face and a prediction he’s about to get an earful.
Returning to Calgary for the first time since being nabbed in Seattle’s expansion draft, the man who captained the Flames the last eight years knows his morning of warm-hearted welcomes will turn into an evening full of taunts.
No, not from an adoring fan base.
From his former teammates.
“I’m sure I’ll hear a lot of chirps tonight,” chuckled Giordano, universally adored as the longtime heart and soul of the club.
“We were texting and I told Razzy (Rasmus Andersson) he better not, but if there was one guy, I’d probably pick him to give it to me.”
Originally slated to make his emotional return to Calgary with the upstart Kraken on Dec. 23, the 37-year-old surprised many by electing to get some of the warm and fuzzies out of the way in Wednesday evening’s exhibition tilt.
“Just our schedule – we only have four exhibition games left, and being a new team we’ve got to get familiar with each another and play games,” he said of the decision to play that has ticket holders abuzz.
“Tonight’s going to be pretty cool. The regular season one, I’m sure it’ll be a full building. The one in December will be special. It’ll be a big divisional game for sure. It’s going to be weird tonight, for sure, coming in here. I’m actually glad to get one under my belt here early in my time in Seattle.”
Asked how he’d like the fans to remember the 15 years he spent as one of the greatest feel-good stories in team lore, Giordano got sentimental.
Could anyone have expected anything otherwise, given how much the longtime captain gave to the organization, the city and his teammates?
“The thing I would want them to remember me as is, playing well or playing poorly, I gave it my all every shift and every night, and I will continue to do that,” said Giordano after the morning skate.
“That’s the one thing I hope they remember me as.”
Fitting, as one of the best ways to describe Giordano, as the ultimate leader, was that he’d block a shot with his face to win a preseason game.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that Wednesday night when he’ll step onto the ice he played 15 years on, albeit with a stylish blue “S” on his jersey, instead of a flaming C.
“It’ll be different, but I’m looking forward to playing against the guys,” said Giordano, who made a point of seeking out plenty of former mates in the bowels of the arena Wednesday morning.
“I saw Chucky (Matthew Tkachuk), saw Johnny (Gaudreau), Looch (Milan Lucic) and a quick hello for Marky (Jacob Markstrom). I have so many memories of this city and good times on and off the ice.
It’s a special place for my family and I. I developed so many relationships here. I grew up as an adult here.”
The city’s fan base took such pride in watching his evolution from undrafted camp invite, to captain, to Norris Trophy winner.
Giordano singled out that season, when he was named the league’s top defenceman, as the greatest memory of his time in town.
“The one year we won the conference,” said Giordano, grinning as he recalled the 2018-19 season in which his 17 goals, 74 points and plus-39 rating had plenty to do with the Flames topping the west.
“I know it didn’t end the way we wanted to but we had a lot of good things going on that year, and just having success as a team. I told the guys in Seattle too, that’s what you play for near the end of your career — that’s what you want, is an opportunity to play for the Cup.”
That chance may not happen in Seattle where the early belief is that the expansion club isn’t as well-positioned for early success as Vegas was.
“We have a lot of good, young players who are right there, who are going to turn into stars quick,” said Giordano, adding other players might better be deemed ‘underrated.’
“I really think the way we’re built we’ll be a tough team to play against. Hopefully that translates into a lot of wins. There are a lot of new faces on the team so it’s a really important camp to get used to each other and how we are going to play.”
He said the bigger adjustments have been off the ice, getting his family settled in Seattle as part of their new norm.
After all, it has been quite a whirlwind for a family that hoped right up until the night before the draft that Giordano could somehow remain a Flame.
The next day he was on a plane bound for the Pacific Northwest where he’ll be an integral part of building something brand new for an excited fan base.
“I think there was some shock there the first few days, but after I got home from the draft in Seattle you start planning, and then the excitement came,” he said.
“I’m looking forward to playing well and getting going. It’s a new start for me and a fresh set of eyes watching you.”
Those eyes include Kraken coach Dave Hakstol who knew on draft day he had a special piece around which he could build his team.
“I’m sure for him it had to be challenging,” said Hakstol of the transition from Flames lifer to Kraken newbie.
“It’s really hard for anyone to put themselves in his shoes. But I can tell you the person that came in and saw us in Seattle not that many hours after learning he was going to be chosen was just unbelievably impressive. The way he was able to handle that entire situation and process everything in that short amount of time and have this positive outlook and genuine excitement to be part of something new in Seattle I found incredibly impressive.”