Have you heard about the SaltWire News app?
Want to become a member? Check out the benefits here.
SaltWire Selects: Stories worth sharing today
Thanking our essential workers
Get the latest summer forecast and weather knowledge from Cindy Day
SaltWire's cartoonists bring heart and humour to the news.
What you need to know about COVID-19: September 18, 2020
Calgary Flames Mark Giordano during warm-up before facing the Detroit Red Wings during NHL hockey in Calgary on Thursday October 17, 2019. Al Charest / Postmedia
Zdeno Chara (33) of the Boston Bruins lifts the Stanley Cup as the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Photo: ERIC BOLTE/ 24H MONTREAL/QMI AGENCY
Oct 24, 2019; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; Calgary Flames defenseman Mark Giordano (5) celebrates his goal against the Florida Panthers during the third period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Calgary Flames won 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-405146
DENVER, COLORADO – DECEMBER 09: Mark Giordano #5 of the Calgary Flames plays the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on December 09, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
This is lofty praise.
Still perfect through six games as the Calgary Flames’ interim head coach, Geoff Ward has been understandably understated, careful not to crank the expectations for his suddenly surging squad.
Which is why it’s especially notable that, when asked about the impact of Flames captain Mark Giordano, he offered up a comparison to Boston Bruins lynchpin Zdeno Chara.
Ward, remember, was there on the night that Chara lifted the Stanley Cup, waiting his own turn to hoist the historic hardware.
“When you have not only a good captain but a good leadership group, you know that the right messages are being sent in the room when they need to be sent, and you know that they’re going to hold each other accountable,” said Ward, who was an assistant coach in Beantown for seven seasons, including their championship run in 2011. “That makes our job as a staff a lot easier, knowing you almost have an extra coach who’s playing on the team and working in the room.
“Gio is much like Zdeno Chara was in Boston. When you get a good captain, they’re gold. When you get a good leadership group, they’re gold. And the one I always use as a standard is the one in Boston. I had an opportunity to watch that leadership group grow, and they’re still reaping benefits from how good those guys are as leaders, all these years later since I’ve been gone.
“It’s an important aspect, and Gio and our guys are really growing into a strong leadership core.”
Brian Burke, who was formerly president of hockey operations for the Flames and certainly has a lot of 403 numbers in his contact list, mentioned this past weekend as an analyst on Hockey Night in Canada that Giordano’s presence has been key in easing Ward’s transition from associate coach to bench boss after Bill Peters’ resignation .
That hardly comes as a surprise, since Calgary’s captain has a reputation as one of the best in the biz.
“I think as a captain, you have to be that in-between guy from the coaching staff to the players,” Giordano said. “Your role is to relay the coaches’ message to the players, but you have to make sure that the players know you have their back. Those are your teammates. Those are the guys that you’re going out on the ice for. Sometimes, it’s tougher when it’s not always a great message to the group, but you just have to be that middle-man.
“I think Wardo has made it super easy on me, because he’s a straight shooter. There are no grey areas. He’s a good communicator, and he takes a pretty positive spin about everything, so it’s pretty nice.”
Certainly, there’s been plenty to be positive about under Ward’s watch.
The Flames just completed a sweep of a two-games-in-two-nights trek — scratching out a 5-4 overtime triumph against the Colorado Avalanche and following up with a 5-2 victory over the Coyotes in Arizona — to run their winning streak to six in a row.
Heading into Thursday’s meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Saddledome (7 p.m., Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan), they’re suddenly just two points out of the perch that many were expecting — top spot in the Pacific Division standings.
They’ve been getting goals from the starry likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, from the recently snakebitten Milan Lucic, from call-ups Dillon Dube and Zac Rinaldo and from everyone in between.
They’re getting saves from both David Rittich and backup Cam Talbot, who kicked aside 46 shots Tuesday against the Coyotes.
With so many storylines, perhaps overlooked has been the contribution of the captain.
The 36-year-old Giordano, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, has played his best hockey of the season of late.
Just moments before Monahan’s overtime winner in Colorado, he made a superb defensive stop on Avalanche speed-demon Nathan MacKinnon. He has blocked 20 (!) shots during this win streak.
“I think at the beginning (of the season), he was maybe trying to do a little bit too much,” Ward said of Giordano. “I think now, he’s playing more inside himself. He’s letting the game come to him. And I think the one thing for a defenceman is when they’re trying to force the game and trying to do too much, that’s when breakdowns happen and things happen. When you let the game come to you and you just play from your instincts, then the game seems to come back to you.
“That’s what we’re noticing with him a little more now is that he doesn’t feel like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. He doesn’t have to do everything. He’s just one member of a team and he knows exactly what his role is and what he has to do, and now he’s playing within that more and he’s letting the games come to him. And as a result, his effectiveness is much greater.”
It doesn’t show on a stat-sheet, but No. 5 has also been an important part of what’s happening behind the scenes as Ward settles in Calgary’s (still-undefeated) interim head coach.
“He’s a really good go-between from the coaching staff to the players,” Ward praised. “I think the biggest thing is he has a real good feel for the room. He has good relationships with every player in that room. He knows them as players and as people, he knows what they’re thinking, so he’s able to bring the proper messages to us from the dressing room.
“And at the same time, he’s able to relay the messages that we need him to relay back to the room. We are always talking about how important the communication level is between us and the players and between players and players, and he really does an excellent job of sort of interfacing that communication.”
Not yet aware that Ward has compared him to the widely-respected Chara, Giordano shrugs off his locker-room impact as just part of his job description.
“Our team went through a lot there a couple weeks ago. Especially as an older guy and a leader … you try to be steady and consistent,” he said. “And you know what? Wardo has come in and been really open. I already have had some great discussions with him and just try to relay his message to the guys, and it’s been working really well so far. He’s the type of guy that will call guys in one-on-one and really have honest talks with them, and I think guys really appreciate that.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019