Mark Giordano rushed to the movies, where he was watching “The Boss Baby: Family Business” with his wife, Lauren, and their 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter, to answer a phone call his family had been hoping for. would not come.

It was July 20, 2021 – a few months before his 38th birthday – and the Calgary Flames captain was back in Toronto for the first extended visit to his hometown in over a year.

The pandemic had taken Giordano away from his family and friends, but also from his longtime coach Brad Wheeler, a man he had met more than 15 years earlier through contact in a summer ball hockey league.

Throughout his storybook career, Giordano had skated through summer drills while “Wheels” as he is known howled from the sidelines. Reunited with Wheeler in May after 14 months, Giordano hoped to regain a lost stage that he and his coach could really see. On this first skate, he took a knee at the end of a workout, catching his breath. The other skaters, also searching for air, exchanged shocked looks between gasps. In all of the skates Giordano had done with Wheeler’s group, he had never put on one knee and rarely had a sip of water.

“They couldn’t believe it,” says Wheeler. “Because he was human.”

Giordano spent the next two months skating three times a week under Wheeler’s guidance. While he was still one of the best defensemen in the NHL, the press inevitably spoke of the impending end of his career. Expansion