Claude Giroux ... the pride of Hearst! (Yes, puckheads ... that's my hometown)
"The English guys all think I'm from Quebec, but I always remind them I'm from Ontario, and they always look pretty surprised," the Philadelphia Flyers rookie forward told ESPN.com on Wednesday.
OK, maybe too much Canadiana for our U.S. readers, but you see, we know exactly how Giroux feels. That's because Giroux and your humble ESPN.com hockey writer both grew up in the same Northern Ontario town, Hearst. Rent a car in Toronto, drive 12 hours northwest (sounds appealing, right?), and you'll eventually find the lumber town of 6,000 where yours truly lived from 1980-90. It's about 85 percent French. It's also the official "Moose Capital of Canada."
And before you ask, no, Giroux and your local blogger do not know each other. He was two years old when Mr. LeBrun left town 19 years ago.
"Yeah, but a buddy of mine told me about you," said Giroux.
Even a two-bit hack like us gets a bit of notoriety in a small town like Hearst; but nothing compared to the absolute pride and excitement the folks in Hearst are feeling right now in seeing one of their own playing in the NHL.
Giroux has eight points (3-5) in his past 10 games, looking more impressive in his second tour of duty with the Flyers after suffering a mild concussion following his first call-up in December.
"I think it's normal that after more games you get more comfortable, you know more what to expect from games," Giroux said. "I think the coaches have given me more responsibility lately and I think that's a show of confidence in myself."
This is the Claude Giroux the Flyers expected to see when they drafted him in the first round, 22nd overall, in the 2006 NHL draft.
"He's extremely smart on the ice," Flyers goalie Martin Biron said. "When he first got called up, you could see he had great skills and the smarts, the whole package. But to be able to do it at that level right away, it takes a little bit of time. Now you're really seeing his full potential. He's adjusted really well. He's playing like he belongs, and that's why he's doing so good.
"When you first come up, you feel a little overwhelmed sometimes by everything around you, and it shows in your play. But now you look at him, he's just making great plays," Biron added. "That backhand pass across to Mike Knuble in New York the other day was just showing his skill set and confidence on the ice. He's been a big part of our success of late."
Giroux was an offensive machine in junior, putting up three seasons of 100 or more points with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Gatineau Olympiques and putting the exclamation point on his career there with a record 51 points (17-34) last spring in 19 playoff games. Ridiculous.
But he may have come to camp a little too sure about his chances to stick with the big club last September. The Flyers sent him a message, sending him down to the AHL's Phantoms.
"I didn't really have a good camp," Giroux admitted. "I wasn't playing the way I wanted to do. I think that's maybe normal coming off juniors. But playing in the American League with the Phantoms, I was able to get lots of ice time and play on the penalty kill, the power play, and all the situations possible. So I think being able to play a lot like with the Phantoms helped me game."
He's made the most of his chance after his call-up. The question is, will he stick with the big club? Daniel Briere is set to return from injury next week and that's going to force GM Paul Holmgren to clear some cap space.
Some players could be sent down, or a veteran could be waived. Exactly what Holmgren will do remains to be determined.
"I don't try to think about it," Giroux said. "I really don't know what's going to happen. All I can do is show on the ice that I can play with them and help the team win."
And keep the people in Hearst bursting with pride.