‘It’s incredible’: Former Flames teammates marvel at Mark Giordano’s status as NHL’s only over-40

‘It’s something that I take a lot of pride in. And I still feel like I can contribute. That’s the main thing for me — if you feel like you can help the team win games. I want to keep playing until I don’t feel that way anymore,’ said Giordano

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When he climbed into second spot on the Calgary Flames’ all-time games played list, passing an old pal, Mikael Backlund received a congratulatory note from Mark Giordano.

Another one.

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“I was looking at all the texts from him before and it was like, ‘Congrats on the King Clancy’ and ‘Congrats on the captaincy’ and ‘Congrats on this,’ ” Backlund beamed. “It’s great. I always appreciate when he sends me those texts …

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“I should text him and say congrats on being the oldest in the league.”

That, too, is heck of a feat. And on Thursday night, with the Flames playing host to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Saddledome, Backlund would have been able to pass along that message in person.

Giordano, a longtime captain and fan favourite in Calgary and now living out his childhood dream in the blue-and-white of his hometown team, is the only 40-something skating in the NHL this season.

Born in October 1983, this greybeard defenceman is nine months senior to any other dude on the circuit.

“You could look at it two ways … ” Giordano told a crowd of familiar faces after Thursday’s morning skate. “I prefer to look at it in the way that it’s a big accomplishment. It’s something that I take a lot of pride in. And I still feel like I can contribute. That’s the main thing for me — if you feel like you can help the team win games. I want to keep playing until I don’t feel that way anymore.”

Giordano was a fixture at the Saddledome for a 15-season span from 2006-21.

He was a beloved teammate, a big-minute blue-liner, a heart-and-soul sort. In a selfless act, he assured former Flames GM Brad Treliving — these two are now reunited in Toronto — that it only made sense to protect three other rearguards and leave him exposed in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

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After all, he was getting up there in age …

Mark Giordano with the Calgary Flames
Then-Calgary Flame Mark Giordano battles the Vancouver Canucks in first period NHL action at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

Now, he is the latest to join a relatively short — and star-studded — list of guys who stuck around the NHL into their 40s. Prior to Giordano, Zdeno Chara, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton were among the most recent additions.

“I’m not surprised,” insisted former Flames teammate Chris Tanev, now Calgary’s oldest defenceman at 34. “I mean, he won the Norris at 35, right? So obviously he was feeling great still in his mid-30s. So there was no sign that he wasn’t going to be able to play at 40.

“As you get older, for everyone at some point, biology kicks in. For some guys, it’s quicker or longer than others. But obviously it’s extremely impressive to do what he’s doing at his age.”

Sure is.

Giordano totalled 949 appearances in the Flaming C crest, which now puts him third in the club record books behind Jarome Iginla and Backlund.

When you include a short stint in Seattle and parts of three seasons with the Maple Leafs, his odometer currently shows a grand total of 1,132 games on the biggest stage.

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While he’s mostly worked this winter in a third-pairing role, he’s still averaging more than 17 minutes per night. (With a grin, the NHL’s only active over-40 noted that he spends a good chunk of time each morning in the hot tub or steam room to “loosen the joints up a bit.”)

“It’s incredible. It’s something for him to be really proud about, for sure,” said Flames speedster Dillon Dube, still a youngster at 25. “Gio’s reputation has always been as the hardest-working guy throughout his career. He started out grinding, battling and then became a top-end player. And to still be playing …

“Think about it, how many guys were ahead of him at the start? And he’s the guy who is still playing. So a lot of credit to him. He’s a warrior. He battles. And I think a lot of it, too, is how good of a teammate he is. That’s why he is sticking around at that age — because they want him in that locker room, they want his personality.”

Mark Giordano with Mikael Backlund of the Calgary Flames
Then-Calgary Flame Mark Giordano celebrates with Mikael Backlund after scoring on Ottawa Senators goalie Filip Gustavsson in third period NHL action at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Sunday, May 9, 2021. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

“It’s impressive,” echoed Backlund, 34. “He has that drive, that passion, and that’s why he’s been so successful in this league and has played for such a long time. He never takes anything for granted and he works super hard, both on and off the ice. He’s a machine. And as soon as he steps on the ice, he goes all out. Practices, games … He plays with a lot of passion. That’s what has made him so good and made him last in this league for such a long time.”

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A reminder of his longevity, Giordano had dinner Wednesday with Curtis Glencross and Matt Stajan, two former teammates who are similar in age but retired from the game several years ago.

Proof he still follows the Flames, he mentioned to reporters that he was thrilled to hear Oliver Kylington recently returned to game action with the AHL’s Calgary Wranglers.

Prior to Thursday’s matchup, Dube reminded that the ex-captain never goes easy on his old friends. As he put it: “All the guys he was close with, we always have good battles with him.”

Which begs the question … When the whistle blows and the trash-talk starts, are geezer jokes fair game?

“At this point, it’s almost a compliment,” Dube said. “Because I know he can look right back at me and be like, ‘You won’t play until you’re 40.’

“Yeah, I guess you could chirp him that he’s an old man. But oh my god, you have to respect it. That’s an incredible accomplishment.”

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