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Gatineau's Giroux makes memorable NHL debut

by Brad Holland

On Thursday, Feb. 21st, forward Claude Giroux made his NHL debut for the Philadelphia Flyers
against the San Jose Sharks, playing over 9 minutes
Watch Claude Giroux in his NHL debut 
If you're Claude Giroux, you've already worn Team Canada colors twice since last August. You've earned a gold medal in your country's favorite hockey tournament. You've dressed -- and scored -- in your first professional hockey game, in the AHL, and, to top things off, you are currently challenging for your league's scoring title as your team vies for the regular-season championship.

So, it is hard to believe that the best was still to come for Giroux.

This past week Giroux of the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques realized not only his own dream, but the dream of every hockey-playing kid the world over. And what's more, he did it in grand style.

Fifteen minutes away from where he grew up, in front of his friends and family and the bulk of his junior teammates, Giroux pulled on an NHL sweater and spent a glorious nine minutes and 27 seconds on the ice during a regular-season NHL game, playing for Philadelphia.

The undersized kid from Hearst, Ontario had finally made “The Show.”

Giroux skated for the Flyers as an emergency call-up Feb. 19 in Ottawa as a rash of injuries had depleted both the Flyers' NHL and AHL rosters. Giroux didn't record a shot in his debut, and he skated to a minus-1 rating; but he did so against arguably the Eastern Conference's most complete team, and, what's more, he didn't look out of place.

He may still have a lot to learn, but Giroux has more than a bright future ahead of him -- it's blinding.

Only two days after skating for Gatineau against his peers, Giroux was forechecking the likes of Ottawa defenseman Wade Redden, battling for pucks with forward Dany Heatley, and skating in a 5-on-3 role with QMJHL-veteran Daniel Briere and NHL All-Star Kimmo Timonen as his teammates.

How's that for a reality check?

But in true small-town Canadian boy fashion, he has earned every moment of his success through hard work and dedication, and doesn't allow any of it to get to his head.

Giroux, the Flyer's first selection, No. 26 overall, in the 2006 Entry Draft, was the QMJHL's leading scorer at the time of his call-up. He had just recorded four points, all assists, in a 9-2 drubbing of Drummondville on Feb. 17. In that game, Giroux extended a personal points streak to six games, during which he had recorded 18 points and had taken over the league lead.

Giroux did not miss a game while he was with the Flyers -- as per the agreement between the Flyers and the Olympiques -- but he sat out the next game upon returning to his junior team. Then, he promptly picked up a goal and an assist in his first game back. With the two-point night in a 6-2 victory against Chicoutimi, Giroux stretched his points streak to seven games.

With 20 points now in his past seven games, Giroux's has 90 points in 48 games, good for fourth in the league. Bolstered by his offensive exploits, the Olympiques sit third in the QMJHL's overall standings with 83 points through 62 games, only four off of the pace set by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

With only a few weeks remaining in the QMJHL schedule, Giroux's thoughts will now undoubtedly shift from point totals and NHL emergency call-ups to his own --and his team's -- goal of a QMJHL, and then possibly, a Memorial Cup championship.

And to continue to enjoy every single second of all of it.

Around the QMJHL -- Michael Frolik (FLA) was awarded the Telus Offensive Player of the Week honors for the period ending Feb. 24, as the second-year forward scored twice and added five assists in only three games, during which the Oceanic won two and lost one. … St. John's Fog Devils' rookie goaltender Timo Pielmeier, a third-round pick of the San Jose Sharks in the 2007 Entry Draft, was excellent this week as he went 1-1 with a 1.44 GAA and a .954 save percentage in his two starts. … Telus Defensive Player of the Week honors went to Moncton goaltender Nicola Riopel. The third-year goaltender was integral in the Wildcats' taking five of a possible six points, with two wins and one shootout loss this week. In the three games, he played to a 1.93 GAA and a.941 save percentage. Riopel has chosen a valuable time to get hot for the Wildcats, as they are involved in a battle for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Division. … World Junior Championship hero Brad Marchand (BOS) scored four goals and five points as Halifax won two of a possible three games this week. Marchand now has 61 points in 51 games this season, and 17 points in 18 games since coming from the Val-d'Or Foreurs in a trade earlier this season.

United States Hockey League

The race for the USHL regular season title is getting muddled, if only for the fact that the two teams in the hunt – the Indiana Ice and the Omaha Lancers – rarely lose.

Because of that, the USHL's overall title has turned into a two-horse race.

With another three wins this week, the Lancers have now run a season-high winning streak to 12 consecutive games. Amazingly, the Lancers have earned 31 out of their last 32 possible points.

Fittingly, the one point they missed out on was an overtime loss at the hands of the Indiana Ice.

The Ice, meanwhile, have lost only once in regulation in their past 11 games. If the Ice are able to sweep the two games they hold in hand on the Lancers, the teams will hold identical point totals of 73 through 47 games played.

But the Ice will be facing an uphill battle the remainder of the season.

The league's best home team, the Ice are 20-2-3 at home, having taken 43 of a possible 50 points. However, they will play 11 of their remaining 15 games away from home, including a season-high seven consecutive road games from Friday, March 21 to Friday, April 4.

By comparison, the Lancers will play six of their final 13 away from home, and will finish out the season with two straight in Omaha on April 4-5.

Around the USHL -- The goaltenders for the Sioux Falls Stampede -- Eric Hartzell and Max Strang -- each started once this past week, and each won in decisive fashion. Saturday evening, Strang stopped 37 of 38 shots in a 2-1 defeat of Sioux City, and Hartzell followed that performance by recording his third shutout of the season the next day, stopping 31 shots in a 2-0 shutout of Des Moines. … Dynamic Swiss forward Luca Cunti (TBL), who earlier this season left St. Cloud State of the WCHA due to problems with the NCAA Clearinghouse, has been held pointless in his past four games, but has still managed 14 points in his first 19 USHL games after sitting out the first half of the 2007-08 hockey season. … USHL-leading scorer and Indiana Ice forward John Kemp had only one assist in four games before exploding offensively for a goal and four points in a 6-3 defeat of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders on Saturday night. He has now put up 56 points through 45 games.

Western Hockey League

The Everett Silvertips have struggled to find their game for most of the 2007-08 season, but they may just be heating up at the right time.

The 'Tips have won six of their past seven games, have recorded at least one point in each of those games, and have climbed to within three points of the Kelowna Rockets for the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

The top line of Dan Gendur, the WHL Player of the Month for January, Zach Hamill (BOS), and Kyle Beach (2008) has been a big part of their surge, as the talented trio has put up 12 goals and 26 points during the seven-game span, an average of about four points per game.

In addition, the Silvertips have also climbed to within four points of the Seattle Thunderbirds for the fourth seed, and home-ice advantage through at least the first round of the playoffs.

With three games left against the Thunderbirds -- and two of those in Everett -- and only four points separating the two teams, the final weeks of the WHL schedule will not be lacking in intensity for either team.

Around the WHL -- The race for home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference will have its share of drama as well, as four teams are within five points of fourth in the conference and the fifth -- the Moose Jaw Warriors -- are seven points out with three games in hand. The Kooteny Ice currently hold down the final slot, but with a five-game unbeaten streak and seven wins in their past 10 games, are proving to be a difficult team to catch. This week, the Ice earned five of a possible six points, losing in overtime to the Swift Current Broncos, 4-3, before defeating two of the teams hot on their heels, the Warriors and the Brandon Wheat Kings, on successive nights. Swiss forward Arnaud Jacquemet was a big reason for the success, as the 19-year-old forward scored three goals and added one assist in the three games. His best performance came Saturday night, as he scored twice in a 4-1 defeat of the Wheat Kings. … The 2007 WHL Champion Medicine Hat Tigers are another team that has rediscovered their game after a wildly inconsistent start to the 2007-08 season. The Tigers have won seven games in their past 10 outings, and giving away no points to the Ice in the process. Much of their recent success can be attributed to the fine play of goaltender Ryan Holfeld, who is undefeated in regulation in his past eight starts, including six wins.

Ontario Hockey League

Just how good is the West Division in the Ontario Hockey League?

So strong, top-to-bottom, that the entire division has qualified for a playoff berth with a little less than a month still remaining in the regular season. So strong that the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, with a .700 winning percentage and 84 points through 60 games played, are still in a battle for the division lead.

So strong that the fifth-place team, the Saginaw Spirit, boasts a record of 29-23-4-2 for 64 points in 58 games --a .552 winning percentage. Saginaw has won seven of its past 10 and each of its past three.

So strong that each of the five teams – the Greyhounds, the Spirit, the Windsor Spitfires, the Plymouth Whalers, and the Sarnia Sting – continue to play solid hockey, even during the most intense part of their schedule. Each of the teams has at least five wins in their past 10 games.

The Kitchener Rangers, with 97 points through 59 games and currently riding a streak of eight consecutive wins, are guaranteed a Memorial Cup 2008 berth as the tournament hosts and will likely enter the OHL playoffs as the favorite, despite the challenge posed by the 'Wild West.'

But the Rangers' path will not be so easy, and they could face challenge from the battle-tested West Division, who through strength of schedule have already been playing playoff hockey for much of the season, and won't be pushovers -- even for the powerful Rangers' lineup.

Around the OHL -- Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Luca Caputi continues to perform in what might well be an OHL MVP-caliber season, as the talented forward scored twice and added four assists in three Niagara IceDogs wins this past week, helping his team continue to climb up toward the Brampton Battalion, who lead the Central Division by five points over the IceDogs. Niagra has a game in hand. … With eight wins in the past eight games, the Kitchener Rangers have had a lot of production out of their lineup. But no one may have more to do with the winning streak than OHL leading scorer Justin Azevedo, who has four goals and nine assists for 13 points in the eight games. He scored twice and added six assists in three wins this week, stretching his point total to 113 points in 58 games. What's most impressive about Azevedo's scoring is that despite who is in -- or out -- of the Rangers' lineup, he continues to put up points at a remarkable pace. His 113 points are almost double that of the Rangers' second-leading scorer, Nick Spaling (NSH), who has 64 points in 47 games. Even if he had not scored a single goal on the season -- he has 36 -- Azevedo would still be leading the Rangers in scoring on his assists alone. His 77 assists -- tops in the league -- are still 13 more than Spaling's points total. … Four-year OHL vet Jack Combs of the Saginaw Spirit scored two goals and added four assists in three games -- all Spirit wins -- this week and skated to a plus-4 rating. He now sits sixth in OHL scoring with 88 points through 57 games.



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