Looking back on a phenomenal rise to stardom
Growing up in Hearst, a small French-speaking community located in Northern Ontario, Claude Giroux wasn't any different than any other kid born north of the 49th parallel, which means that whenever he had the chance he would grab a hockey stick and kill some time doing what he enjoyed the most.Whether it be to stickhandle a puck or a ball, every imaginable location could become a playing area back then: a street, a driveway, a basement, an outdoor rink and of course the local arena where Claude spent countless hours as a kid.
Moving to the nation's capital
When Claude was 15 years old, the entire Giroux family left Hearst and established itself in Ottawa, roughly 600 miles from Claude's hometown. Needless to say Claude would continue to play hockey and he would need little time to become a burgeoning star in the Ottawa region.
In 2002-2003, Claude played Major Bantam for the Cumberland Barons. In 2003-04, he played Minor Midget AA for the Cumberland Barons where he had more than his share of success so he made the jump to junior A with the Cumberland Grads the following season. During this first junior year, in 2004-2005, he was slowed down by mononucleosis. But that didn't prevent him from scoring 13 times and from totalling 27 assists to give him 40 points in 48 games. Those statistics helped him claim rookie of the year honors in the Central Junior A Hockey League.
Mononucleosis having forced him to miss several games, he wasn’t able to shine as he would have hoped for in front major junior scouts, causing him to be snubbed by every single team at the Ontario Hockey League’s annual draft in 2005.
It would however turn out great for Claude, who was invited to the Gatineau Olympiques’ training camp, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. That invitation to training camp kicked off a memorable three-year span for Claude, who amazed Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QJMHL) fans with his skills.
During his three-year tenure with the Gatineau Olympiques, Claude notched three 100-plus points seasons (103 in 2005-2006, 112 in 2006-2007 and 106 in 2007-2008) and made the most out of his final season in the junior ranks by leading his team to the league’s championship in the playoffs, therefore helping the Olympiques clinch a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament, the Mecca of junior hockey in Canada.
In the spring of 2008, Claude indeed displayed every bit of his talent by totalling a whopping 51 points in 19 playoff games, becoming only the ninth player in QJMHL history to register at least 50 points in the playoffs in a single year. Among that elite group you’ll find a player by the name of Mario Lemieux. Fittingly, Claude won the Guy Lafleur Trophy that year, which is awarded to the playoffs’ most valuable player.
Not only did that invitation to Gatineau’s training camp in August 2005 helped launch his career, it allowed him to shine at the international level, still as a junior. The talented forward was asked to represent his country twice and did not disappoint the coaching staff who selected him as Claude, along with Canada’s other best U-20 players, walked all over the Russians in an eight-game series in 2007. That series was organized to mark the 35th anniversary of the 1972 Super Series. A few months later, Claude was part of the Canadian squad that won gold at the World Juniors.
Making it to the big leagues
Selected in the first round of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) entry draft by the Philadelphia Flyers in June of 2006, a draft class that includes the likes of Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Okposo, Chris Stewart and Michael Grabner, Claude wouldn’t disappoint either with the pros.
Just like he did at different stages of his career, he progressed brilliantly and in only a couple of seasons, he went from the shy youngster whose name was forgotten by then-general manager of the Flyers Bobby Clarke at the 2006 entry draft to one of the key pieces in the Flyers’ lineup.
Even though he was called up to play two games early in 2008, he went full-time as a pro in 2008-2009. Claude started that season with the Philadelphia Phantoms, the Flyers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate. After maintaining a point-per-game average with the Phantoms, Claude earned a mid-season call up with the Flyers and once in the NHL, he never came back. He played 42 games for the rest of the season, registering 27 points. That same year, the Flyers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual Stanley Cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins but Claude showed the Flyers’ coaching staff and management team a glimpse of what he could do as he got five points in six games.
In 2009-2010, Claude played in all of the Flyers 82 regular season games, scoring 16 goals while adding 31 assists that year. More importantly, Claude and his teammates would have a much more successful spring than the previous year as they reached the Stanley Cup Finals. The Flyers ended up losing in six games against the Chicago Blackhawks and the fans who didn’t knew who number 28 on the Flyers was discovered Claude Giroux, who had 21 points in 23 playoff games.
Finally, during the 2010-2011 season, Claude once again suited up for all 82 games, this time establishing a new personal best with 76 points (25 goals and 51 assists). His 76 points were good for 11th place in the NHL scoring race.
As you probably noticed, the French-Canadian NHLer who grew up as a Montreal Canadiens fan went on an exciting journey to go from a member of the Hearst Minor Hockey Association to a team leader praised by both his teammates and his opponents in the biggest league of them all. And you know what the best part is? He’s only 23 years old…