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Girardi becoming household name in NHL circles

by Dan Rosen
Exactly how much did John Tortorella know about defenseman Dan Girardi when he was hired to coach the Rangers nearly three years ago?

"I called him Joe Girardi for about three weeks, no lie," Tortorella said, referencing the current manager of the New York Yankees. "I didn't know his name. I didn't know who the heck he was."

Tortorella eventually learned Girardi's first name, and soon after he realized how important the defenseman is to the New York Rangers. This season, the hockey world is getting the same introduction.

Get a load of this funny guy

Before he got to the Rangers this season, Mike Rupp knew very little about Dan Girardi except how difficult it is to play against him.

A few months into his tenure with the club, Rupp said he feels he has a pretty good read on the team's standout defenseman.

"I don't know what Danny was perceived as before, but he's just a clown all the time," Rupp told "He has that serious look all the time, and he's not very serious."

Henrik Lundqvist, who has been around Girardi since he joined the Rangers in January of 2007, confirmed Rupp's evaluation, saying if he were producing "24/7" for HBO, Girardi would be the one guy he'd pick to follow around and always have a microphone on.

"I don't know how many interesting things he does, but he says a lot of funny things," Lundqvist said. "Even during the games, he says things as the play happens. Whether he makes a mistake or a good pass, he always comments on it himself. I hear him, but now I'm used to him talking to himself and saying all these funny things."

Both Lundqvist and Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto were convinced that Girardi would be the No. 1 star for the Rangers in the first episode of "24/7," but he was barely featured.

"Cally's grandmother," Girardi said, suggesting Ryan Callahan's grandmother was his first star of the first episode.

Girardi's home life -- especially playing hockey in his living room with his 21-month-old son Landon -- was featured heavily in the second episode. But the viewer didn't get to see any hilarious behavior or hear any funny statements from the Rangers' supposed class clown.

"I think some guys like the attention, getting on TV. I don't go looking for the cameras," Girardi told "I am not changing myself out there for the cameras. If stuff makes it on, it makes it on. That's just how I am."

Girardi, though, admitted he does say enough during games that HBO could have some "A" material if it so chooses.

"I don't really remember what I say. I just say it," he said. "I really don't know how to explain it. I like to have fun on the ice, but at the same time I take my job very seriously. That's how I like to play, keep it loose and not get caught up in a bad play so my mind is not focused on that. I like to keep it light, but making sure I'm focused with what I have to do."

-- Dan Rosen
Girardi's steady progress from an undrafted free agent to a minute-munching blueliner has been praised within the Rangers' walls since Tom Renney was the coach. But now that he's wearing an "A" on his sweater due to Marc Staal's season-long injury and playing an almost flawless 27 and a half minutes per game, his days of flying under the radar on the big team in the big city are over.

Girardi and his family were featured in the second installment of HBO's "24/7" series, and he'll be on display again in front of a national audience Friday when the Rangers host the Flyers at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m., NHLN-US) in a prelude to the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.

"I've been here long enough that the fans and team know that I'm relied on out there and my responsibility is to be ready every night to play those minutes without letdowns," Girardi told "If I'm playing 30 minutes and I'm not at my best, that's a lot of ice time out there that is not being played very well. So that's my responsibility, is to be ready every game and do what I can.

"I like being held accountable," he added. "The first couple of years I was a young guy just trying to play a steady game, but people are relying on me more now. I like the responsibility."

Girardi assumed very little responsibility when he first arrived in New York almost five years ago.

He started in the ECHL, worked his way up to the AHL, and in his second professional season he was called up to the big club due to an injury to Darius Kasparaitis. Girardi made his NHL debut on Jan. 27, 2007 -- ironically, against the Flyers -- and has played in 391 of 393 games ever since, missing only two due to a rib injury last season.

"He just gets better, too," Tortorella said.

Girardi said the keys to his success (he led the NHL in blocked shots last season with 236 while also putting up a career-high 31 points) are found in his style of play and how he takes care of himself between games.

He prides himself on the fact that he quickly surveys the situation before deciding when it's best to take a risk with either a pass or a pinch. Girardi rarely cedes his defensive position in favor of an offensive chance.

"I get up the ice when I can, but I'm not going to sprint up the ice if I know I can't get into the play," he said. "I'll take hard strides up the ice, but I'm not going to overexert myself. I'm going to be in the right spot. I try to use my head a lot to be in the right position where I'm not panicking and trying to recover and exerting energy that way. I'm trying to be in the right spot before the puck even gets there."

No player on the Rangers appreciates Girardi more than goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who told that the defenseman "has been rock solid for a number of years, it's just more noticeable now" due to the amount he's playing and how public he's been with the "A" on his sweater.

"You know he's going to do his job in front, take the hits and block the shots that need to be blocked," Lundqvist added. "He's definitely a good guy to have in front of you."

With his ice time being what it is (a League-high 27:38 per game), Girardi said it's most important for him to take it easy on days when the Rangers don't have a game. He does that by being a normal dad to 21-month-old Landon and husband to Pamela.

"It's just not being crazy," he said. "It's going home after a game, getting some food, and some sleep, but I'm up early anyway with my little guy. We walk around the city. It's all acting pretty normal to me."

Sure, if your definition of normal is a guy who rarely commits a noticeable mistake or has a lapse in judgment while playing roughly half of every game for the New York Rangers.

Oh, Tortorella definitely knows his name now. Everyone else around the League does, too.

"He's been good for a while," Tortorella said. "I think he's finally getting noticed, and it doesn't surprise me."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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