Anaheim's Jean-Sebastien Giguere
will be playing with both a heavy heart and an angel on his shoulder Sunday when he skates to his crease as the starter for the Western Conference in his first NHL All-Star Game at Bell Centre in Montreal.
It'll be a special moment for the 31-year-old native of the Montreal suburb of Blainville, who lost his father, Claude, to an undisclosed illness on Dec. 16. The family patriarch never denied any of his five children the opportunity to live out their dreams. For Giguere, playing in his first All-Star Game in front of family and friends is certainly a dream come true because of his dad.
"It wouldn't surprise me if he had something to do with the voting and had the fans pick me," Giguere grinned. "But I know he would have been so proud of me being here because he was my biggest fan and supporter. He helped me all my life, and even though we didn't have a lot of money growing up, he always found a way to get me the equipment I needed. Whenever I needed to get to the rink, he found a way to get it done — even when we didn't even have a car. I know I wouldn't be in the NHL, never mind the All-Star Game, if not for the help of my dad."
Giguere was the youngest of five hockey-crazed siblings -- three brothers and two sisters. He picked up the sport when he was 5 and decided to play goalie only because he was thrown between the pipes every time the family decided to break out the sticks and pucks.
"Goaltending always intrigued me as a kid because I just loved all the helmets and equipment," Giguere said. "I guess I ended up being fairly good, so I kind of stuck with it."
His oldest brother, Stephane, was a forward in the now-defunct International Hockey League and was drafted in 1986 by the Maple Leafs. Jean-Sebastien would make it the farthest as a player, however, and was considered a world-class goalie on the junior level by age 17.
"My parents had to mortgage their house twice just to buy my equipment," Giguere said. "We were five kids and living on not a lot of money, but we all played hockey because the sport was first and foremost in the family. We all had a paper route that we had to do just to help pay for sports, and mom and dad made sure that we did what we needed to do to be the people we are today."
Despite his Montreal background, Giguere actually grew up a Quebec Nordiques fan.
"I grew up a Nordiques fan, but the Canadiens were always a big part of family discussion so I'm looking forward to the whole experience at the All-Star Game," Giguere said. "It's going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event — and the fact I'll be able to share that with my family, who are my biggest fans, is going to be even nicer. It'll be a chance to take a step back from our everyday thing and just enjoy it."
Giguere not only expects his four siblings to join in the fun of All-Star Weekend, but his 13 nieces and nephews, who are also hockey junkies, will be on hand too.
Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle
is glad Giguere has been honored as the Western Conference starter.
"It's always a feather in a player's cap to get the recognition to be selected to play in the All-Star Game, and anyone that has been around the game, knowing the history of the French-Canadian hockey player, having the game in your own hometown is a pretty big event," Carlyle said. "Those are things that are not only special to yourself, but to that support group around you."
Despite the fact it might not be Giguere's best statistical year in eight seasons with the Ducks, he was still voted in as starter ahead of another Montreal native, Roberto Luongo
of Vancouver, by more than 150,000 votes.
"The one message I'll always remember from dad was that he always told me never to quit," Giguere said. "In the years where I got cut from rosters and was disappointed when I was a young kid in minor hockey, he always told me just stick to it, have fun and work hard."
Ducks defenseman Bret Hedican
said Giguere certainly earned this opportunity in Montreal.
"He'd be the first to tell you how weird it is that some years, you don't have a great year and get elected, and other years, you're having a great season and don't get elected," Hedican said. "So, I just told him that he's certainly earned the right to be there and to just go and enjoy it. It's in his hometown and he just needs to absorb it all in and have some fun."
Giguere has never finished a season with the Ducks with a goals-against average higher than 3 -- he's currently sporting a 3.08 GAA. In 31 appearances, he has a 12-12-4 record with a .904 save percentage. He's won just once in his last eight decisions (1-5-2), but is confident he'll pick up his play following the All-Star break.
"It's been an up-and-down season for sure," Giguere said. "I had a fairly good start, but as of late, it's been a struggle to get some wins and get that confidence. As a team, we've had our ups and downs and we're not where we want to be right now (as the eighth seed in the West). We'd like to be a little higher in the standings, and we know we have to play better."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.