Bowman heaps praise on Giordano

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

OTTAWA — Mark Giordano may be the best NHL defenceman few outside Calgary have ever heard of.

That title could soon change if the Flames blueliner continues to play as well as he has this season.

Not only did he recently make The Hockey News’s all-underrated list, but he’s made it onto legendary coach Scotty Bowman’s radar, too.

Telling Fan 960 radio play-by-play voice Peter Maher in Tampa on the Flames’ current road trip just how impressive Giordano is, Bowman’s praise was monumental. He called Giordano the most-improved defenceman in the league, and even suggested the 26-year-old Toronto product may be the most-improved player, period, this season. The news took Giordano by surprise — just what he seems to do in every city the Flames visit.

“I didn’t hear about that. He’s definitely a guy who’s one of the most respected in the league. That’s pretty cool to hear compliments from him,” said a wide-eyed Giordano Monday at Scotiabank Place following practice.

“He’s been around for a long time and he’s won a lot of Stanley Cups. That’s pretty cool to hear that.”

Giordano should be getting used to kudos. The fact he doesn’t take it for granted might be part of what makes him so good on the ice. He’s always striving to improve.

Better yet, he’s always believed in himself. It’s part of the reason he went to Russia to play the 2007-08 season when the Flames refused to give him a one-way contract.

“I was always confident that I can play in this league. I don’t want to start acting like I’m a thousand-game guy or anything, but the more you play, you find it easier to forget about the mistakes that you make. I think the first few years I dwelled on it a little bit more, and got down a bit more than you should,” Giordano said.

“Mistakes are going to happen. It’s just having the confidence and knowing you’re going to get another chance to prove yourself.”

With Dion Phaneuf being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs last week, Giordano is getting even more of an opportunity to play at critical moments of games.

Flames head coach Brent Sutter has been counting on his underrated blueliner all year, and has

suggested the team’s depth on defence — and the emergence of Giordano specifically — helped make the Phaneuf move possible.

“I know Gio is certainly coming into his own.

I thought he was a player this team missed down the stretch last year,” Sutter said of Giordano, who was out the last few months of the season healing a surgically repaired shoulder. “He’s come back this year with a great frame of mind. He’s responded to it, and that’s a credit to him.”

Giordano says he hasn’t changed his mindset since Phaneuf left.

But he is being presented more opportunities, said Giordano’s current blueline partner Adam Pardy

“He’s embraced the challenge and the opportunity that’s been given to him. With Dion gone, we need that big shot on the powerplay. The offensive defenceman is gone — that’s where Gio comes in,” said Pardy. “He’s done real well with that, handling the situation properly. He’s run away with it.

“It doesn’t take away from his defensive game, either.”

Giordano’s 10 goals have him tied for fifth among NHL blueliners. An amazing solo effort against the Phoenix Coyotes late last month will go down as one of the most incredible goals of the season.

Pushing a puck through Ed Jovanovski’s legs, then evading another Coyotes defender with a deke at the goal-line, Giordano capped off the play by stuffing a shot past the netminder while still moving at high speed.

“I got lucky a few times

I think on that goal. Nine times out of 10 it doesn’t even get by the first guy, let alone the goalie at the end.

“I’m not gonna sit here and tell you I can do that every time, but when it does happen, it’s pretty cool.”

Sort of like being mentioned by name by a guy like Bowman.

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

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