At a charity dinner years ago, Mark Giordano was asked to FaceTime with a diehard Calgary Flames fan.
Her friend was seated at the same table as the captain and wanted to surprise her. The woman, not expecting such an interaction, answered in her pyjamas. Mortified, she chatted with the star blueliner. He then asked about her dog, who she named Iggy after another long-time Calgary captain. Giordano then jokingly berated her about why she named the dog after Jarome Iginla and not himself.
“You named your dog Iggy instead of Gio? What’s going on?” recalls Mike Franco, a Calgary Flames executive who was at the table. “He had such fun with it. It was such a magical moment. Everyone was in stitches.”
When Giordano was chosen by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft on July 21, it left a massive hole on the Flames blueline. It left perhaps an even bigger void in the greater Calgary community. The Giordano family’s impact on Calgarians has been immeasurable since the undrafted defenceman became a full-time NHLer nearly 15 years ago.
In 2011, Mark and Lauren Giordano partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes in developing countries. Three years later, they launched Team Giordano to further advance their efforts. It emphasized education and opportunities for kids. Over the years, they have quietly helped out if students couldn’t afford to go on class trips, didn’t have enough food, or needed other support. The Giordano family would often show up in front of classrooms to interact with kids.
“Their main impetus was, ‘We have money, so how can we help?’” said Helen Nowlan-Walls of EducationMatters, a Calgary non-profit. “They weren’t interested in any recognition. They just wanted to know who wanted the help and how they could provide it.”
Helen initially had no idea who the Giordanos were.
“I’m not a hockey person, so I had no clue how big a deal they were,” she said. “My nephew was aghast. He was like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ He was just a really nice man named Mark. I had no idea who he was, but he didn’t correct me or anything. He was just lovely. They are incredibly humble.
Franco is involved with the Italian Open, a golf tournament that raises funds for local charities. Over the years, Mark and Lauren Giordano have donated time and money.
“It’s always, ‘What do you need and how can we help?’” Franco said. “He’s the last person out of the room. He signs every autograph and takes every picture and answers every question.”
During the pandemic, the Giordanos were often spotted participating in drive-by birthday parades for kids, honking their horns and waving balloons for children celebrating their big days. They also worked with the Italian Centre Shop to donate food to those in need.
“Just having Mark and Lauren spend time in our shop and collaborate on these unique programs really lifted our spirits,” said Gino Marghella, the store’s general manager. “It reminded us more than ever how important it is to give back during times of need and crisis. The first time the family came into the shop, you could just see how they lifted the spirits of everyone.”
The Giordanos took the time to chat with staff and share stories of their heritage.
“We came from the same background, so it was funny to hear that his grandpa was still making wine and fresh sauce to this day, and how the sauce was important to his family and it had to be done a certain way,” Marghella said. “We shared a chuckle. Talking with them kind of brought me back to my own childhood. It was really fun to interact with him on a different level.”
The Giordano family has also been involved in social causes. They marched in the Calgary Pride Parade several times and also supported the You Can Play project, which works to eliminate discrimination in sports based on sexual orientation.
The Giordano family’s work has not gone unnoticed, as Mark and Lauren have won numerous awards for their community involvement. Mark won the 2014-15 NHL Foundation Player of the Year Award and in 2017 became the first NHLer to win the Muhammed Ali Sports Humanitarian Award.
Now the Giordanos are in Seattle, where their impact will undoubtedly continue. Their legacy in Calgary, however, remains.
“They’re not the people who give a handout, they give a hand up,” said Nowlan-Walls. “They were always trying to uplift.”
Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who had the unenviable task of leaving Giordano unprotected for the Kraken, summed it up after the news was official
“Him moving on is the closing of a very important chapter in this franchise, and I thank him, his wife Lauren, Jack and Reese, for everything that they’ve done,” Treliving said. “This is part of the cruel side of the business of hockey. I wish him nothing but the very, very best. And we miss him. Seattle got a great, great man today.”