Giordano relishes first practice with Maple Leafs since trade

TORONTO — Mark Giordano said he couldn’t wait.

The veteran defenseman grew up cheering for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs and dreaming of one day playing for them. Now here he was Tuesday, more than three decades later, finally getting the opportunity to have his first workout as a member of the organization he loved as a kid.

It was no surprise that he was one of the first players on the ice at the Ford Performance Centre, almost 30 minutes before Maple Leafs practice officially started.

“I haven’t been really nervous for a practice in a long time,” the 38-year-old said. “But I was anxious to get out there today.”

And to see the Maple Leafs crest on his chest.

“I’m from here, right? So it’s a team I’ve obviously followed my whole life,” he said, grinning from ear to ear. “There’s a lot of history, obviously, with this organization but it’s pretty special to be able to say that you’re from here and played for the organization.”

Giordano and forward Colin Blackwell were acquired by the Maple Leafs in a trade with the Seattle Kraken on Sunday for a second-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft. Each met their new teammates Tuesday and will make his Maple Leafs debut against the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; MSG+, SN, TVA, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).

Giordano, who won the Norris Trophy voted as the top defenseman in the NHL with the Calgary Flames in 2018-19, has scored 532 points (149 goals, 383 assists) in 1,004 regular-season games for the Flames and Kraken. His addition filled a pressing need of a top-four defenseman for Toronto, which is without Jake Muzzin (upper body) and Rasmus Sandin (knee).

Giordano will begin on a defense pair with Timothy Liljegren but coach Sheldon Keefe said he’ll likely, eventually, play with TJ Brodie, his former defense partner with Calgary, once Muzzin returns to the lineup. Muzzin, who has not played since Feb. 21, practiced in a red no-contact jersey Tuesday.

“I’ve watched this team a lot. The luxury of being out west is you get to watch the early games before you play. He’s a great player,” Giordano said of Liljegren. “I’ve said it all along, there’s a lot of young guys now coming into the League with a lot of poise. I wish I was like that when I was young.

“He’s got super skill. Everyone knows that. He’s got really good poise with the puck, patience, and I’m happy to play with him.”

Giordano said he’s also thrilled to be teammates with high-end talent like forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner and John Tavaresespecially after practicing with them.

“To be honest, today after being out there for line rushes and stuff, there is some super skill out there,” Giordano said. “Some of the little subtle plays, they make it look so easy. It’s going to be nice. As defensemen, our job is to obviously get these forwards on our team the puck and give them good opportunities to capitalize.”

Giordano and Blackwell practiced on the second power-play unit and likely will play there against the Devils.

“They’re excited to be here,” Keefe said. “You’ve seen them on the ice before and you know the players but getting them on the ice with our guys you do develop even greater respect for them when you see them in our live drills and in our system and all those kinds of things So that was really good.

“They just seemed like they fit in really well with the guys in their interactions.”

Giordano admitted his first game with the Maple Leafs will be special, especially with his parents, Paul and Anna, expected to be in the stands. Because his familiar No. 5 is retired by the Maple Leafs in honor of the late Bill Barilko, he’ll wear No. 55.

Asked about the pressure of playing in the hockey fishbowl that is Toronto, Giordano said his time in Calgary helped him adapt to the spotlight of a Canadian market.

“Calgary was a passionate fan base as well so it’s a lot like that here,” he said. “I think the other thing that helps me is I’ve lived here for a long time so I know how passionate the fans are about the team.

“I know playing here is a bit different but it all comes with playing with that Leaf on your chest.”

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