Ask John Stevens where Claude Giroux
gets his creative hockey instincts and the Flyers’ coach says, “You can’t teach what he has.”
Ask Giroux, the talented Flyers rookie, and he says, “When I was younger I played a lot of street hockey. The players I played with back in Hearst (Ontario), we just loved making plays. We would watch players do it on the ice in the NHL, then we would try to do it in the street.”
Told that many basketball players get as much satisfaction from assists as they do from scoring, Giroux smiled and said, “An apple for me is as big as scoring a goal.” (Translation: Giroux explained that an apple is a hockey term for an assist).
Giroux’s father, Raymond, also had some influence on his son’s playmaking.
“When I was a younger guy,” Giroux said, “I would shoot the puck a lot and try to deke everybody on the ice. My Dad would get mad at me and tell me to pass the puck. I finally realized that if I passed the puck, there was a good chance I’d get it back.”Danny Briere
, another skilled playmaker, has been a linemate of Giroux’s lately. Briere says you have to stay alert while playing on a forward line with him.
“You always have to be ready,” Briere said. “You never know when the puck might show up on your stick. The give-and-go’s that we can work in the offensive zone (are) a lot of fun.
|Claude Giroux celebrates a goal against Toronto at the Wachovia Center on April 3. (Getty Images) |
“He’s definitely a creative guy. The way he reads the play, his vision, is excellent. Before long, I think we’ll be talking about Claude as a superstar in the NHL.”
As impressive as Giroux is, he still makes rookie mistakes. In a recent game, the 5-11, 172-pounder tried maneuvering one-against-three into the opponent’s zone as his linemates trying to get off the ice at the end of a shift. Watching Giroux, sometimes it’s easy to forget how young he is (21).
Stevens says that Giroux has to do a better job of “managing his risks. It isn’t often he makes poor decisions with the puck. When he does, what I like is he can still bounce back so that a bad shift doesn’t turn into a bad period.”
Giroux has quickly won over teammates with his skill and work ethic. They realize that having him centering a third line behind the Jeff Carter and Mike Richards lines provides the Flyers with added depth entering the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Having him spreads the scoring around,” Richards said. “It makes it difficult to match up against us. He’s a hard worker (and) dedicated to hockey.
“He definitely has that natural ability to see the ice. He’s such a great passer. He’s so patient with the puck. He holds the puck until the last second. Usually, it would take a little bit (of time) to get comfortable to be that patient, but he just has that natural hockey sense to be able to see the ice.”
Giroux’s presence with the Flyers is a long way from his disappointing training camp. His defensive shortcomings at the NHL level pointed him toward the Phantoms.
“I thought I had a chance to make the team, but I didn’t play the way I wanted to,” Giroux said. “I didn’t work as hard as I should have. So I went to the Phantoms, had a lot of ice time and learned a lot from the coaches there. Maybe the first day I was disappointed (about his demotion), but I was more being disappointed in myself. I took it as motivation to get better.”
While John Stevens notes Giroux’s defensive deficiencies at the time, he also says he thinks Giroux “was trying to force it, trying to make the team. He’s a great example of someone who got comfortable with the pro game at the American League level.”
The trust that Stevens has in Giroux was evident when the Flyers coach juggled the forward lines recently and had Giroux skating between veterans Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble.
Giroux has adjusted to the switch from the wing to center as smoothly as a spoon dipping into a plate of ice cream. Playing center allows him to expand his creativity with the puck. It also requires more defensive accountability.
Playing in the NHL was my dream, but I didn’t think it was possible. I had a lot of breaks in my career. I feel very lucky to be part of the team.” - Claude Giroux
“In junior, I had big responsibilities playing defensively,” Giroux said. “I played PK (penalty killing) and if I didn’t do the job, the coach would let me know.”
Although he was primarily a high scoring winger with Gatineau in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he took faceoffs. “Coming here,” he said, “they thought I’d help the team more at center. I’m still learning. It’s actually fun to play center. When you play good defensively, you have more chances offensively.
“Playing in the NHL was my dream, but I didn’t think it was possible. I had a lot of breaks in my career. I feel very lucky to be part of the team.”
Giroux’s introduction to Flyers fans occurred awkwardly during the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. When announcing the team’s selection, Bob Clarke, then the Flyers’ president and general manager, forgot Giroux’s name. Paul Holmgren, the Flyers’ assistant GM at the time, was standing behind Clarke on the podium and supplied Giroux’s name.
“(Clarke) said my team, and I thought he was going to change his mind,” Giroux said at the time. “I didn’t know whether to get up or sit down.”
When Giroux was introduced to Clarke, he tried to ease Clarke’s embarrassment by saying that his name was hard to remember. A classy move by the young hockey player.
Giroux’s pleasing sense of humor was evident in a feature on “Coatesy’s Corner” during a recent Flyers telecast. Steve Coates dreamed he was playing on a line with Giroux and Gagne. Seated on the bench after a shift, Coates offered serious comments in English while the skeptical Giroux and Gagne conversed in French. After Coates said that he would “take care” of them if opponents tried to rough them up, Giroux said, “If he takes care of me, my career is over.”
Giroux’s family has visited Philadelphia to see him play. Raymond owns an electrical business in Hearst, which is in north central Ontario. He and his wife Nicole raised Claude and his sister Isabel, who works for the Canadian government in Ottawa.
Giroux also seems comfortable in the area off the ice. “I’ve been to Old City, seen Rocky and had Philly cheesesteaks…all normal Philly stuff,” he said, smiling.
Sounds as if he belongs.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 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.