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Determined Girardi Beat Odds to Reach NHL

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
The journey from youth hockey to the NHL is a long one. Only a tiny fraction of kids who start out with dreams of playing at the game's highest level actually get there. Each of the roughly 700 current NHL players has his own, unique story about the road to hockey's top league, and for Rangers fans, none are more interesting than those involving current Blueshirts.

Road to the Rangers on, takes readers back in time, giving them a sense of what players went through to make it. Hear the player's story in his own words, in his own voice, as he looks back at all the years leading up to his first NHL game. Get a feel for each player's personality as he talks about unpublicized moments that helped him realize the dream of every young hockey player.

Dan Girardi Dan Girardi
On Jan. 27, 2007, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi took the ice for his first NHL game at Philadelphia. The Blueshirts beat the Flyers 2-1 that night, and it was impossible not to notice the poise that Girardi, then 22, displayed throughout the game. Although most Rangers call-ups from the Hartford Wolf Pack found themselves shuttling back and forth between the AHL and the NHL, Girardi was instantly in the NHL to stay.

More than 200 NHL regular-season games later, Girardi, 25, is a fixture on defense for the Blueshirts, now playing in his third full season. His success is a credit first to himself and second to the Rangers scouts who showed faith in him more than four years ago, when no other NHL team was interested in the undrafted free agent from Welland, Ontario. Indeed, Girardi truly beat the odds in reaching the NHL, particularly after slipping through two NHL Entry Drafts.

His long road to The Garden traced back to the 2000 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, when the OHL's Barrie Colts chose Girardi, a Junior B player for his hometown Welland Cougars, with the 59th overall pick in the draft.

In his first year of eligibility for the NHL draft, the 2001-02 season, Girardi suffered a spleen injury that limited him to just 21 games. As a result, he did not make the NHL Central Scouting radar and was not chosen at the 2002 draft in Toronto.

During the 2002-03 OHL season, Girardi was traded to the Guelph Storm, where he completed his first full major-junior season. Eligible for the draft again, he was passed over at Nashville and returned to Guelph for the 2003-04 season. The following year, he remained in the OHL as an overage player and was traded to the London Knights with 31 games left in the 2004-05 season.

In London, Girardi played on a Memorial Cup championship team and caught the eye of some Rangers scouts, who wanted to give him a shot at pro hockey.

That summer, he was offered an opportunity to play for the Rangers' ECHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers. He took the Rangers up on their offer and played so well for the Checkers that he was called up to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL after only seven games.

Girardi signed an NHL contract in 2006. By the middle of his second AHL season with Hartford, he was called up to the Rangers and never looked back. Rangers Assistant General Manager and Assistant Coach Jim Schoenfeld, who was the GM and coach in Hartford back then, has said that watching Girardi play his way up to the NHL was one of the great thrills of his own hockey career.

Here is Girardi's story, in his own words:

Click on the links below to hear Girardi (Windows Media Player is required)
PART 1: Growing up in Welland and and the path to major-junior hockey.
PART 2: The experience of playing in the Ontario Hockey League.
PART 3: The decision to pursue a pro career or play university hockey.
PART 4: Going undrafted and taking Rangers' offer to play in Charlotte.
PART 5: Getting called up to Hartford and being one step from the NHL.
PART 6: Realizing his dream of reaching the NHL, playing his first game.

Dan Girardi Dan Girardi Dan Girardi
Girardi with Guelph in December 2004.
Playing for London in '05 Memorial Cup.
A member of the Wolf Pack in 2005-06.
Dan Girardi Dan Girardi
Preseason game during first Rangers training camp in 2006.
First regular-season game at MSG vs. Toronto on Jan. 31, 2007.
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