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There's no missing Giroux now

by Brad Holland

Claude Giroux had a 39-goal rookie season in the QMJHL.
Claude Giroux was passed over in the Ontario Hockey League draft and for Team Canada in his hockey career, and all in the past three seasons. But that was nothing new to the native of Hearst, Ont. He was ready for it.

"All my life people have told me I'm too small to play hockey," he said. "I just kept playing because I loved it. I worked hard, I try to use my opportunities and I had good coaches, in minor hockey and I still do today, that have helped my career."

The disappointment of being cut is something that every athlete is forced to face at some point in their career. Michael Jordan, possibly the greatest basketball player of all time, was cut from his high school hoops team as a sophomore. Sometimes being cut can provide just the right amount of motivation.

Far from letting the slight of getting cut affect his play, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Giroux has risen above it, time and time again.

He signed with Gatineau in the QMJHL and turned in a 39-goal rookie season. Giroux now has 121 goals in 164 games in one of the top major junior leagues in Canada. He is the alternate captain for the QMJHL's top team and he was a 2006 first-round NHL Draft pick, selected by Philadelphia.

Now, finally, he can say he is a member of Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, completing a dream that Giroux has held since childhood.

"Every Christmas me and my dad, we never missed a game," he said. "Morning, night or during the day, we never missed one. I never thought I'd be able to be on the roster and now I have an opportunity."

In addition to his WJC selection, Giroux competed as a member of Team Canada at this summer's Super Series. In that tournament, he skated on a line with Brad Marchand, who also made the Team Canada WJC roster, and now-Edmonton Oiler Sam Gagner.

Before the Team Canada selection camp began, Giroux was asked what he thought about possibly being reunited with Gagner and Marchand. His answer was so purely hockey-esque, so genuinely Canadian that you could see he was excited just thinking about the possibility but couldn't bring himself to expect anything at all, for fear of jinxing his selection.

"I don't know if I'll be able to be with them again," Giroux said. "Gagner is still in the NHL, so we don't know what'll happen. If I make the squad I'll be happy just to play with anyone and try to help the team win the gold."

Not only has he made the team, but he hasn't been skating with just "anyone."

In two exhibition games, Giroux has been reunited with Marchand, and the familiar linemates have added another playmaking centerman to their mix. New Westminster, British Columbia native Kyle Turris has completed their line, and the trio has looked very comfortable thus far.

Aside from skating on a top scoring line, Giroux also has seen time killing penalties and on the power play. He has responded to his increased ice time and role with good production.

He has two assists -- one on a Stefan Legein shorthanded goal -- in two wins thus far. He and his Canadian teammates have looked impressive in the early going, dispatching Red Bull Salzburg, 5-0, and following that up with a defeat of Team Slovakia, 6-1.

Thus far, Giroux has looked like a player who can help his team, and Canada is always a team that could win gold -- far from his days of working through the disappointment of being cut, of being passed over in the OHL draft.

Giroux never has been in a better place in his hockey career, and it shows.

"I 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."

WJC Notes: Team USA forward Kyle Okposo, taken by the New York Islanders with the seventh overall selection in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, made headlines earlier this week when he decided to forgo the remainder of his college eligibility and make the jump to the professional ranks, signing an entry-level contract with the Islanders. His status for the World Junior Championships remains unchanged, and he and Team USA will next be in uniform for an exhibition game Dec. 22 against Team Czech Republic. ... The goaltending situation for Team USA and Team Canada will make for interesting water-cooler debate leading up to the tournament, and a difficult decision for each team's respective coaching staff. Team Canada's goaltenders, Steve Mason and Jonathan Bernier, splitting time in the two games, have combined to allow only one goal in 120 minutes, while Team USA's goaltending combination of Jeremy Smith and Joe Palmer combined to make 12 saves against Western Michigan University on Tuesday in a 4-2 win. ... Ten Team USA skaters chipped in with at least one point during its exhibition game, with defenseman Jamie McBain and forward Colin Wilson each recording two points. McBain, a 2006 second-round NHL Draft pick by the Carolina Hurricanes, registered a goal and an assist, and Wilson, eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, contributed two helpers. Team USA out-shot Western Michigan by a 37-14 margin in the game. ... Canadian forward John Tavares, eligible for the 2009 NHL Draft, scored a goal and added two assists in the second exhibition game, bringing his team-leading totals to 2-2-4 in two games. ... After the Marchand-Turris-Giroux line dominated the first exhibition game for the Canadians, combining for five total points, a line of Sarnia Sting forward Steven Stamkos (2008 eligible), Tavares, and Belleville Bulls forward Shawn Matthias (Florida) combined for six points in their second game as the Canadians out-shot the Slovaks, 38-24, en route to a 6-1 victory. ... Team Canada has been getting offensive production out of its defense thus far in their exhibition schedule, with seven points off of the back end in two games: Josh Godfrey (Washington), Drew Doughty (2008 eligible) and Thomas Hickey (Los Angeles) each have two points, while P.K. Subban (Montreal) has one. ...The Team USA power play already looks good, as the Americans went 2-for-3 in their game against WMU.

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