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Giroux Thrives Under Pressure

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
When Claude Giroux scored his second goal in the Flyers’ series-clinching Game 5 victory over the New Jersey Devils, I thought, “We’ve just seen a star arrive.” Pressure situation, pressure reaction.

Giroux, in his first full NHL season, already had been a presence for the Flyers this season, although his 16-goal goal output was below what the team expected of him. He has a gift for passing the puck, he is blessed with unique on-ice vision and he’s a swift skater.

With Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne sidelined in the playoffs, more scoring from Giroux will be needed if the Flyers are to prevail over Boston the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

In the Devils series Giroux led the Flyers with four goals. His six points were runner-up to Mike Richards’s eight. In last year’s first-round Flyers loss to Pittsburgh, Giroux collected two goals and three assists. He seems to be a player who thrives under pressure and in the playoffs. Flyers fans will always remember his shootout goal vs. the New York Rangers in the regular-season finale that helped move the orange and black into the playoffs.
Philadelphia Flyers' Claude Giroux celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL first-round playoff hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Thursday, April 22, 2010 in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Teammate Blair Betts has enjoyed observing Giroux’s progress.

“For a young player, he seems very calm and poised in a pressure situation like the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Betts said. “With a chance to eliminate the Devils in Game 5, he came up with a big game. He’s shown a lot of maturity for such a young player. He has a tremendous offensive upside.

“What separates the really good offensive players from guys that are inconsistent offensively is when you can skate and handle the puck at the same time. He’s always moving at full speed. It’s tough to defend against him.”

Seated at his locker stall in the Skate Zone, Giroux said, “(The playoffs) are what we play for. It’s very exciting. When you want to win, you play better. The whole team has stepped up.”

When I wrote about Giroux last year, teammate Danny Briere told me, “Before long, I think we’ll be talking about Claude as a superstar in the NHL.”

Recently, Briere expanded on his assessment of Giroux. “He’s not afraid to make plays, he said. “He’s very confident in his game and skills. He’s very patient with the puck. A lot of younger guys, and older guys, don’t have that.

“His vision sets him apart. That’s why we like playing with each other because we see the game the same way.”

A high-ranking Flyers official told me, “If you took a secret ballot of our wingers on which center they would like to play with, (Giroux) would get a lot of votes.” That’s no knock at the Flyers other centers: just a huge compliment for Giroux.

Ian Laperriere is another fan of Giroux’s.

“`G’ is one talented player,” Laperriere told the Camden Courier-Post’s Chuck Gormley. “I keep telling him every day how special he is. He’s got to realize how great he is, and if he does, he will be an unbelievable player for many years.”

Referring to Giroux’s superb passing skills, linemate James van Riemsdyk said, “You always have to have your stick on the ice and be ready at all times.”

When van Riemsdyk’s compliment was relayed to Giroux, he said, “It’s a lot easier when you play with good players. I’ve played with (Arron) Asham and van Riemsdyk pretty much all season. They’re pretty good at getting open.”

Giroux and his teammates have taken to coach Peter Laviolette’s attacking style.

“The forecheck is really intense (with) two guys always on the puck,” Giroux said. “It’s pretty fun to play.”

* * *

When Giroux was growing up, he was like many kids: he wanted to score 100 goals, so he tried to deke everyone. His father urged him to pass the puck more. “I finally realized that if I passed the puck, there was a good chance I’d get it back,” Giroux said.

We’ve all heard the stories of Canadian youngsters polishing their skills in backyard rinks. Giroux did that, on cold winter afternoons and evenings in Hearst, Ontario, but he also carried his development one step further.

“My buddy had a basement that actually was pretty big,” he recalled. “We ended up playing there pretty much every day. Then his dad made an outdoor rink, so we could play outside or inside. Those were good times.”

Pro golfers remember every shot they take in tournaments. Hockey players are the same way, although Giroux modestly said, “I don’t usually score a lot, so when I do, I remember them.”

Referring to his goals vs. the Devils in Game 5, Giroux said, “I just had two opportunities to score and just put them in. On the one goal, I just shot it. There were a couple guys in front and I just tried to get it through. I was pretty lucky to get that corner.”

The 5-11, 172-pound Giroux has only been a pro for a few seasons, but already his draft-day encounter with Bob Clarke is part of Flyers lore. Clarke, momentarily blanking, forgot Giroux’s name when the Flyers were announcing his selection as the 22nd player chosen in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Graciously, Giroux told Clarke that “Claude is a hard name to remember.”
"(The playoffs) are what we play for. It’s very exciting. When you want to win, you play better." - Claude Giroux

Informed of Clarke’s temporary brain fade, a smiling Betts, who was not with the Flyers then, said, “He knows his name now.”

These days Clarke might not recognize Giroux because he has grown a full reddish beard for the playoffs. “I just decided not to shave,” a grinning Giroux said.

If the bearded look helps Giroux create points for the Flyers, teammates will hide all razors.

Hockey players are notoriously superstitious. If their teams are winning, they don’t shave. Another Giroux superstition is eating grilled cheese sandwiches before games. He told Daily News hockey writer Frank Seravalli that his mother started making grilled cheese sandwiches before games when he was growing up. Now, he continues the tradition.

Hey, if grilled cheese sandwiches work for Giroux, more power to him in the land of cheesesteaks.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1982, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.
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