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Call of a lifetime: Giroux's Wild ties date back to early childhood

Recent draft pick grew up 5 minutes away from assistant GM Brunette

by Phil Ervin /

Video: Get to know Damien Giroux

ST. PAUL -- Even today, Damien Giroux can't wipe the grin off his face as he recounts the day he was drafted.

Some prospects travel to the NHL Entry Draft's host city in hopes of hearing their name called in person. Others stay at home, glued to the television or their smartphone.

But Giroux, one of the Wild's fifth-round picks in this year's draft, was at the golf course Saturday, June 23.

"I didn't want to think about the whole day and stress about everything," Giroux said during development camp Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.

As soon as he returned to his parents' home on the northern outskirts of Sudbury, Ontario, the text came. Agent Greg Parker congratulated his 18-year-old client on becoming the 2018 draft's 155th overall pick.

Moments later, Giroux's phone rang. An even more familiar voice welcomed him to the Wild.

Giroux and his family have known Minnesota Assistant General Manager Andrew Brunette for decades. Giroux attended a half-decade of Brunette's Pro Players Hockey School summer camps. Brunette lived about a five-minute drive away and spent lockout years playing shinny on the Girouxs' "unbelievable" backyard rink. Giroux and Brunette's nephew Parker played on the same team through Bantams. Brunette, 44, was a couple of years behind Giroux's father in the Sudbury youth association.

[RELATED: News, video and more from the Wild's 2018 development camp is available at].

So there was both emotion and nostalgia on each end of the phone that Saturday as Brunette delivered the life-changing news.

"It was pretty special," said Brunette, who starred for the Wild as a player from 2001-04 and 2008-11, "obviously watching him grow from a little kid to a teenager to growing into a man is pretty neat. He hasn't changed one bit. He's the same kid ... I saw when he was 4 or 5 years old. For our small town, to get a player drafted is a pretty huge deal, especially a kid I've been able to see over the years and have him in our organization and watch him continue to grow is pretty special for me."

That's a kid who's well-spoken, apt to smile and despite his smallish frame is "the type of kid that's not going to take a shift off or a day off or a workout off," according to Brunette. "Always 110 percent. He's been that way his whole life."

Giroux -- no relation to Claude of Philadelphia Flyers fame -- has scored 68 points in two seasons with the Ontario Hockey League's Saginaw Spirit. After his first development camp, the 5-foot-9, 177-pound, left-shot center will return home and prepare for his third OHL season.

He's currently on blood thinners to avoid clotting after a minor surgical procedure in April, which means no contact or game-like scenarios (such as Thursday afternoon's open scrimmage). But he's looked good in team drills and off-ice workouts this week, Brunette said, and expects to be a full-go for preseason camp with Saginaw later this year.

Giroux says he models his game after Tampa Bay's Tyler Johnson, a similarly speedy, smaller forward -- the likes of whom are becoming more in vogue among today's NHL players.

"Everyone at the next level is a obviously a little bigger, little faster, little stronger," Giroux said. "Just to be able to have that speed factor on your side, be able to make quick decisions with the puck, know what to do even before you have it is such a big factor at this level."

Giroux and Brunette hail from the Valley East district in lake-laden, blue-collar, mining-rich Sudbury, which as of 2014 had a population of 165,175. Giroux's father serves as president of Ontario French language college system Collège Boréal, and his mother's a registered nurse in the infant unit at a local hospital.

Giroux attended his first Pro Players Hockey School when was 4. Brunette and a friend who owned a sporting goods shop oversaw the camp for nearly 20 years, featuring celebrity instructors like Wild forward Marcus Foligno, brother Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets and fellow NHLer Derek MacKenzie of the Florida Panthers.

"(Giroux) was always probably my favorite kid to work with," Brunette said. "He just loves the game and loves to complete and loves to soak up as much information as he can."

That's served Giroux well this week in St. Paul, as 43 prospects and camp invitees have been immersed in everything professional hockey from face-off drills to social media training to team bonding activities such as Monday's beach volleyball tournament at Lord Fletcher's in Minnetonka or Thursday night's trip to ProKart Indoor Racing in Burnsville.

And so has the latest reunion with his longtime family friend in Brunette.

"I really looked up to (him) growing up," Giroux said. "Just to be able to ground yourself with someone that you've known for a while, he's got the same roots as me. To have that little piece to just hang onto definitely helps."


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