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Giroux completing QMJHL circle of life

by Brad Holland

Claude Giroux scored 39 goals and was a member of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s All-Rookie Team during his rookie season with the Gatineau Olympiques.

In addition, he and his teammates made it to the playoffs semifinal, losing to eventual champion, Moncton. To say he learned a lot quickly might just be an understatement.

“We had good veterans that showed good leadership and everyone wanted to win,” Giroux said. “We played as a team. It was one of the best times of my life when we had that run it was so much fun.”

Giroux, who had five goals and 20 points in the 17 games he played that postseason, remembers the character in that dressing room and points to that team chemistry as a reason for success.

Flash forward to this season, and Giroux sees a lot of the same chemistry building in this already young season.

“When you get to the rink the guys are happy to be here,” Giroux said. “It’s a big motivation for the season, everyone is having fun.”

But things have changed. Now, it is Giroux, the veteran. No longer a fresh-faced youngster, he is now an alternate captain and one of the players looked upon to provide offense. He points to the example set by his older teammates during his rookie season as his motivation.


“When I was a rookie, the vets worked hard on and off the ice, so that’s what I’m trying to do -- work hard and show leadership for our kids,” he said. “We have good young players here and a lot of potential and, hopefully, we’ll continue to improve.”

So far, so good. The Olympiques sit second overall in the TELUS Division, due in a large part to their offensive game. Giroux is the leading scorer on the league’s leading offense. But he knows the team has a lot more to accomplish before playoffs begin.

“For sure we have a young team and we’re just trying to show up every game,” Giroux said. “We’re trying to get better every night working hard, and we’ve been doing that since the beginning of the season. Hopefully, we can continue.”

In fact, Giroux believes the Olympiques might just be able to do some damage in the QMJHL playoffs this spring. Thus far, they have flown under radar and are still a bit of an underdog in the league. Something Claude Giroux is more than familiar with.

Giroux is now in his third season with in Gatineau, but he almost didn’t make it to major junior hockey at all. He was passed over in the OHL draft in his draft-eligible year. From there, Giroux was free to play for any other CHL-member team. This he did, accepting a tryout from Gatineau at the beginning of the 2005-06 season.

From that tryout position, Giroux was able to earn a full-time roster spot with the Olympiques. His training camp and early season play then earned him a spot on the first line. He never looked back, and didn’t let the slight of getting passed over affect his play, or his attitude.

“All my life people have told me I’m too small to play hockey,” he said. “But I just kept playing because I loved it.”

From being passed over in the OHL Priority Draft to being selected No. 22 overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL Entry Draft. Funny how things work out.

But speaking to Giroux, you get a picture of a kid who never wanted to do anything but skate. To listen to Giroux tell it, you’d think he was just a kid playing hockey – no pressure, no cares and nothing but himself and his teammates. He is what he is, a small-town Canadian kid just happy to be playing the game he was born to play.

“I’m just love to be on the ice and every time I’m on the ice I’m having fun,” he said. “When I’m happy and having fun, that’s when I play my best.”

Around the QMJHL -- Alexandre Monahan scored four goals Sunday against PEI, with his final tally coming in overtime. The undrafted Mascouche, Quebec native now has 10 goals and 13 points in his first 10 games. … Since rejoining his team, Columbus first-round selection Jakub Voracek has been on a tear, recording two goals and thirteen points in five games, good for the best points-per-game average in the league. The Halifax Mooseheads have gone 4-1 in that stretch, scoring an average of just more than five goals per game. … Voracek’s teammate, Ryan Hillier is tied with Monahan for the QMJHL lead in goal-scoring with 10 in 11 games played. He scored goal No. 10 in a 6-5 win against the Acadie-Bathurst Titans Saturday night, making him the first player in the young season to reach 10 goals. In each of four seasons with the Mooseheads, Hillier has increased his goal totals (1, 19, 32) and the 2006 New York Rangers’ third-round pick is looking to set another career mark this season. … In an effort to get a little tougher, the PEI Rocket acquired Bradley Gallant from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles for a 12th round selection in the 2009 QMJHL entry draft. Gallant had 11 goals and six assists in 66 games last season with the Screaming Eagles to go along with 153 penalty minutes. … Buffalo Sabres’ prospect Jean-Simon Allard (fifth round, 2007) is on his way to a career season. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Allard had 12 goals and 50 points in 69 games with the St. John’s Fog Devils last season; but already has five goals and 15 points in only nine games in 2007-08. He had four goals and four assists in two games each vs. Halifax and Chicoutimi this week, earning him the TELUS Offensive Player of the Week honors. … Despite being slowed by a groin injury that forced him to miss the Canada/Russia Super Series and the Pittsburgh Penguins training camp, Quebec Remparts forward Angelo Esposito has come out of the gate flying with five goals and 12 points in his first seven games. … Imports are leading the way for the 2007 QMJHL rookie class with September Rookie of the Month and Quebec Remparts forwardMikhail Stefanovich of Belarus pacing all rookies with 14 points in his first 12 games. He is followed closely by Tomas Knotek of the Czech Republic, who has 11 points in 11 games with the Halifax Mooseheads. Fellow countryman Radek Vlasanek of the Drummondville Voltigeurs sits third with 10 points in 13 games. Stefanovich and Knotek are available for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, while Vlasanek was passed over in his first eligible year. Jonathan Bernier, 2006 first-rounder to the Los Angeles Kings, was returned to the Lewiston MAINEiacs yesterday. The MAINEiacs will be happy to see him back, as they have had difficulty keeping the puck out of their net - something that charactrized their Championship team from a year ago. In 37 starts last season, Bernier posted the league's second-best GAA at 2.58 and fourth-best save percentage at .905, but he was even better in the playoffs, losing only once in 17 starts and posting a 2.34 GAA and a .919 save percentage en route to a league Championship. No travel schedule has been annoucned, but there is a possibility Bernier could rejoin the team as soon as this weekend during their road trip to Rouyn-Noranda and Val-d'Or.

Western Hockey League

The WHL’s version of the Battle of Alberta is heating up.

No, we’re not talking about the Calgary-Edmonton rivalry, not in this case, though with a good first draft and solid support from the Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings should be a force to reckon with for many seasons to come. No, this time, we’re talking about Calgary and their neighbors to the southwest: the Medicine Hat Tigers.

The Tigers went 3-0 this weekend, picking up valuable points in the Central Division of the WHL’s Eastern Conference as the Calgary Hitmen went 0-1-1. The Tigers began the weekend with a win in Lethbridge against the Hurricanes, and followed that up with wins at home against the Oil Kings and the Hurricanes again, on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

For their part, the Hitmen dropped a heartbreaking, 4-3 shootout loss to the Vancouver Giants on Friday and followed that with a 2-1 loss at the Chilliwack Bruins on Saturday night.

The Tigers, last season’s WHL Champions, have now won five straight games and trail Calgary, this season’s current CHL No. 1 team, by only two points with two games in hand.

The teams next play one another Sunday, Dec. 16, in Calgary.

Around the WHL -- Familiar faces are beginning to creep back to familiar places in the standings. The Vancouver Giants lead the B.C. Division, the Medicine Hat Tigers are within striking distance of the Central, the Everett Silvertips have won three straight and four of five and are creeping back into the running in the U.S. Division, and the Regina Pats are only a point out of the top spot in the East. Each team won its respective division last season. … Tyler Ennis of the Medicine Hat Tigers currently sits atop the league lead in goals with 10 and tied for the league lead in points with 16. In three wins this week, Ennis had three goals and five assists. … The Everett Silvertips are fighting their way back into the WHL hunt on the backs of three top-20 scorers: Kyle Beach (6-9-15), Dan Gendur (4-10-14) and Zach Hamill (3-9-12). The talented trio sits tied for third, sixth, and 13th in scoring, respectively. Beach, Gendur and Hamill had 13 points between them as the Silvertips won two games during the weekend.

United States Hockey League

The USHL’s newest member club, to be based in Fargo, North Dakota, announced their team nickname and logo at a press conference Oct. 12.

Fittingly, the new team will be a force -- the Fargo Force.

The Force will begin playing in the USHL in 2008. Their home rink, the Urban Plains Center, is currently under construction in South Fargo.

The team recently selected eight players it hopes will be a foundation for their inaugural season at the USHL Futures Draft last week. St. Cloud Cathedral defenseman Nate Schmidt was the team’s first selection.

Former UND head coach Dean Blais is acting as general manager and head coach for the franchise. Blais played for the University of Minnesota from 1970-1973, and was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fifth round of the 1971 NHL Entry Draft.

Around the USHL -- The Chicago Steel know how to put the puck in the net. Five of the top nine scorers in the league play for the Steel, including the top two players in the league. Andy Miele and Brian O’Neill are tied atop the USHL leader board with seven points apiece, Miele with five goals and O’Neill with three. … Brady Hjelle goaltender for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, sits atop the USHL with a 1.00 GAA and a .969 save percentage. Hjelle is 3-0 in three starts with the RoughRiders this season, his first in the USHL. He will be draft-eligible at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa this summer.

Ontario Hockey League

While the status quo seems to be the order of the day in the WHL, the OHL is experiencing a changing of the guard early in the 2007-08 season.

Of the four divisional winners from a year ago, only one team – the Belleville Bulls in the East Division – has managed to begin the new season as they finished it, at the top.

Of the other three winners from a year ago, the Barrie Colts sit third in the Central, seven behind Niagara, the London Knights sit fourth in the Midwest, eight behind the Kitchener Rangers, and the Plymouth Whalers sit fifth in the West, 12 points off the pace set by the Sault Ste. Marie Grehounds. The Greyhounds currently lead the league in points.

Emerging talent on other teams in the league, a more balanced schedule and key losses -- certainly the London Knights would be much better off with superstar linemates Pat Kane and Sam Gagner on their roster – can be targeted as reasons for the increased parity.

Around the OHL -- John Tavares has re-taken the OHL lead in both goals and points, and if his early season play is any indication, it just might be for good. Tavares had four goals and three assists in two games during the weekend in wins agaianst Erie and Kingston, respectively. His linemates, Brett MacLean and Dean Howard, also had big weekends, and the three combined for nine goals and 20 points in the two games. … The Windsor Spitfires are continuing to get solid play from throughout their roster, and it is showing in the standings. The Spitfires went 3-1 during the past week, and four players had at least five points in the wins: 2008 NHL Draft-eligible forwards Joshua Bailey (1-5-7), and Greg Nemisz (2-3-5), over-ager Bradley Snetsinger (2-5-7) and under-ager Taylor Hall (4-1-5). Hall scored four goals in an 8-3 win against the Erie Otters on Saturday night. … Josh Unice, a rookie goaltender for the Kitchener Rangers and a 2007 NHL Entry Draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks, sits second in the OHL with a 1.98 GAA and currently boasts a 3-1 record. He leads all rookies in goals-against average.

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