Some say it’s a new day for Flyers’ hockey. At just 25, the newly named Flyers’ Captain Claude Giroux is considered one of the top three hockey players in the world. Coaches single him out for his work ethic. Teammates tout his leadership. And fans are over-the-top in love with his creative abilities on the ice. A short professional career – only four seasons in the NHL – has catapulted him into hockey history. Despite a rocky start to this year’s season, the Claude Giroux era is upon us. It’s a time the young athlete has been waiting for his whole life.
Ask Flyers’ fans what they think of their new captain and the only negative you’ll hear is that maybe he’s a little too young for the job, but just maybe. Word on the street is that Claude Giroux, 25, has skills that will make him a superstar one day – if he isn’t already.
The chatter isn’t mindless adoration; the Canadian athlete has lots of stats to back up the praise. Giroux was named the Flyers’ MVP in the last two seasons, and he’s the top playoff performer of any Flyer, ever. Last season, he scored 93 points – the best season for a Flyer since Eric Lindros in 1999. More #28 Giroux jerseys were sold last year than any other NHL player, and pick up the new EA Sports NHL 13 video game, and you’ll see Giroux on the cover. Fans voted him there.
Giroux will tell you his success all comes down to one thing: hard work. “When I played juniors, my coach was really intense,” he says. “He was all over me to make sure I worked hard. He made me realize if I want to play in the NHL one day, I had to be the hardest-working guy there.”
Giroux’s hard work was recognized when the Flyers’ front office named him team captain in January, after the NHL owners’ lockout finally came to an end. Giroux is taking the place of defenseman Chris Pronger, whose post-concussion syndrome has kept him off the ice for almost two seasons. In making the announcement, General Manager Paul Holmgren called Giroux “the undisputed leader of the team. He always exhibits a tremendous work ethic in games and practices.” Flyer’s chairman Ed Snider kept it simple: “This is Claude’s time.”
For Giroux, the title comes with some weight. “It adds a lot more pressure, but a little pressure is never too bad,” he says. “It’s a lot of responsibility, obviously. I get that. I’m ready for that.
“I’m not a perfect captain. I’m still learning. There are a couple veterans on the team who have been captain before, so I’m lucky to have them to help me out a little bit. But basically, it doesn’t really matter if you have a C on your jersey. If you lead by example, that’s what really matters.”
When rumors swirled at the start of the season that Giroux would be named captain, some debated if he was too young for the role. But even those who fully supported the move expressed some doubts when the team got off to a bleak start, winning only four of the first 10 games of the season. Even Giroux’s opening stats were low: scoring only three goals in those first 10 games. In some of those games, he didn’t even take a shot on goal.
Giroux, though, isn’t getting caught up in his early performance. “There’s still a lot of hockey left,” he says. “We have a lot of games to play, so it’s important that we stay healthy and play as a team. We have to make sure we get into the playoffs. When the playoffs come, anything can happen.”
His anything-can-happen attitude was learned firsthand. Giroux points to the last regular season game of 2010, where the Flyers earned a playoff spot after winning a shoot-out against the New York Rangers. Giroux says it was his most memorable non-playoff game with the Flyers.
The team went on to beat the New Jersey Devils in five straight, then came back from a 3-0 deficit in the second round against the Boston Bruins to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship. That comeback against Boston was the biggest in Flyers franchise history.
“We ended up going all the way to the finals,” Giroux says. “The whole experience was unreal.”
You could say Giroux’s road to Philadelphia was as impressive as that playoff run. Born in Northern Ontario, Giroux says he grew up playing hockey at every chance he could get. When he was 15, his family moved to Ottawa and the undiscovered star rose to play in the junior leagues in two years. His first year as a junior, he was named rookie of the year, earning 40 points in 48 games. What makes those stats really impressive is the mononucleosis diagnosis he received at the start of the season.
He was invited to the Gatineau Olympiques’ training camp, which has produced 80 NHL players and coaches. Giroux stayed for three years, scoring triple digits in each of those three years.
In 2006, the Flyers’ General Manager Bobby Clarke selected Giroux in the first round of the NHL draft. It was a memorable (and humorous) draft because Clarke forgot Giroux’s name when he was announcing the pick, having to turn for an off-stage prompt.
Giroux showed himself as a quiet, reliable player, landing a spot with the Philadelphia Phantoms for the 2008-09 season. The Flyers called him up mid-season, and there he stayed. He played 42 games that year, scoring 27 points.
Giroux appeared in every regular season game the next year (2009-10). In that memorable last game of the season, it was Giroux who made the final goal in the shoot-out to start the team’s journey to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The next year (2010-11), Giroux scored 76 points, ranking him 11th among NHL scorers.
Fans credit his hockey instincts and creative play for his success, noting that you never know what will happen when Giroux is on the ice. “It’s one of the aspects of my game that I like. Sometimes I like to shoot the puck. Sometimes I like to pass it. It’s good to mix it up a bit.”
Off the ice, Giroux has made SJ his home during the season. Two years ago, Giroux lived in Haddonfield with teammate Danny Brière and Brière’s three sons. The up-and-coming Flyer was even known to occasionally pick up Brière’s kids from elementary school. He has since moved out but kept SJ his home.
“The area here is more relaxed,” he says. “I could have lived in Philadelphia, but there’s a lot of traffic there and a lot more people. This is a great place for families to live, and there are a lot of nice places to go to. When you go to restaurants, everyone is nice and you can have a good time.”
In the off-season, Giroux heads home to Ottawa. “I work with my back home five days a week. I’ve been doing that for six or seven years now, so I have a lot of fun with him.”
This year’s off-season was extended when the NHL owners’ lock-out cut regular season play almost in half – from 82 to 48 games. During the four-month delay, which ended in January, Giroux played for the German Elite League with teammate Brière. Giroux scored 19 points in nine games but left in November because of a neck injury, which he says has healed. While in Germany, Giroux visited London, Norway and Prague. “It was a good time to play overseas,” he says. “And I got to travel a little bit, too.”
When the lockout ended, the Flyers held an open practice for fans at the Wells Fargo Center as a thank you for their loyalty. Over 15,000 fans packed the arena. A few days later, thousands flocked to the practice rink in Voorhees to watch the start of the team’s training camp. The Flyers Skate Zone was so packed the Fire Marshall held people in the outside corridor, only letting one in if another fan left.
“We weren’t expecting that,” Giroux says. “They’re great fans. They’re loyal fans, and we’re really lucky to have them. It’s great to see a lot of people came out just for practice.”
Now well into the current – albeit abbreviated – season, Giroux is back to focusing on his philosophy of working hard on the ice. “Before each game, I tell myself to go out there and try to work as hard as I can. If you look back at the Broad Street Bullies, you see guys working hard and paying the price. I think it’s important we do that. We need to go out there and work hard. Flyers fans like that a lot, so that’s what we try to do out there.”
Helping at home
Recognizing his popularity in the NHL could help him support a charitable cause, Claude Giroux set out to help his hometown of Hearst, a small French-speaking community in Canada. The Flyers captain has partnered with the Notre-Dame Hospital Foundation to raise funds for a new rehabilitation facility called the Claude-Giroux Centre. Organizers are looking to raise nearly $700,000 to build the facility, which will fill a gap in rehab services for the Hearst community. The nearest similar clinic is over 200 miles away.
Giroux launched claudegiroux28.com, where fans can purchase hats and T-shirts as well as autographed jerseys. Proceeds from the items will help fund the planned rehab clinic.
You can play
Giroux also joined other NHL stars in a short video against homophobia in hockey. Asked to participate by Flyers Scout Patrick Burke, whose openly gay brother was killed in a car accident in 2010, Giroux is one of 12 NHL greats to appear in the video. The one-minute video shows close-ups of the players who repeat one simple message: “If you can play, you can play.” Also featured are Patrick Burke and his father Brian, former general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The two talk about the brother and son they lost and his fight for athletes to be judged on skill and ability, not sexual orientation.