The life in Russia was good to Mark Giordano.
Good pay. Good accommodations. Good hockey. Good times.
"As good as it was, it made me realize how much I want to be back in the NHL," the defenceman said yesterday from Halifax. "It's a good life and all that, but if you want to play in the best league in the world, you have to play in the NHL.
"I think I can do that and want to prove that, most importantly to myself, and other people, too."
Seeing the Calgary Flames still hold the rights to the 24-year-old rearguard, that would mean to expect him back in the fold and on Saddledome ice when training camp begins in September.
Giordano, who remains a restricted free agent and didn't agree to terms last summer, opted instead to play with Moscow Dynamo. He'd broken into the NHL ranks on a semi-permanent basis in 2006-07, skating in 48 games and amassing seven goals and eight assists.
A year ago, he was probably too good to spend another season in the minors -- not that anybody believes he'd have cleared waivers if the Flames tried to send him to Quad Cities -- and not quite good enough to be guaranteed a spot on the big club.
Having spent a year in Russia's top league, he believes his game has gone up a notch.
"I played more and any time you get more ice time, you'll get better. Any time you play in different situations, you'll get better," said Giordano.
"It was a tough decision to make and, at the end of the day, I made the decision, but I don't think it hurt my game. It helped me."
Now, it's a matter of striking a contract with the Flames.
GM Darryl Sutter wasn't happy about Giordano's move, but never publicly slammed the door on his return.
"We'll see what happens in the next few months," said Giordano, who can't officially re-sign until after July 1.
"I want to be back (with the Flames). I love the city and I don't think there was any bad blood between myself and the Flames.
"I still feel part of the organization. I know it was a year away, but I still followed the guys and I still feel part of it."
Currently, he's a reserve for Canada's entry at the World Championships, which begins Friday in Halifax.