By Larry Wigge
Every time Claude Giroux runs into Bobby Clarke, the longtime Philadelphia Flyer great, he reintroduces himself.
Strange ... but true.
In happened in Vancouver at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The Flyers wanted honor Clarke, who was their former GM, by letting him announce their first pick.
"Philadelphia selects, from Gatineau of the Quebec Junior League," Clarke paused, looked down at some paper, then glanced off to the side for some help. "I forget."
When the chuckles died down, Clarke made the announcement: Claude Giroux.
There are no mistakes about Giroux now, he was the Flyers first round pick, 22nd overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. In fact ...
He was a competitive kid ... never gives up ... always around the puck... makes good plays around the puck ... bigger than he looks.
That last complement of Giroux was the reason Claude was ranked 38th on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's final draft-eligible rankings, moving all the way from 72nd in the mid-season report.
In the fall of 2005, Giroux, who was born in Hearst, Ontario, arriving to the game in his Gatineau jersey as a kind of free agent ... nobody in the Ontario Hockey League had drafted him.
"He was too small, I guess," said Flyers scout Simon Nolet says.
"Yes, 140 pounds.
"I began scouting Claude ... and I'm thinking that he's a little small. You go back and see him again. And again. And again. And then you make up your mind."
At 17, he was 140. Giroux now 5-11, 185 pounds. He packs a giant punch with every check he throws -- whether the opponent is 6-5. 250 pounds.
Traditionally, the Flyers have targeted bigger, more physical players. But Giroux plays big. He view him as an excellent blend of skill and smarts and a player and a very competitive attitude and a definite desire to win.
"Claude's the best player in the world," said former Flyers coach Peter Laviolette.
At 17, he was 140. Giroux now 5-11, 185 pounds.
Some players are made for the moment ... others have to work at it.
Claude Giroux volunteered for it in the 2010 playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins to play the first shift against Sidney Crosby. He didn't just volunteer, he demanded that Laviolette put him in the starting lineup.
"About 10 seconds before they dropped the puck, he came over and told me, 'Watch the first shift,' " former teammate Danny Briere said. "He set the tone. That first shift, that was beautiful to see. That's the sign of a great leader."
Giroux looked for the first hit as the first shift began. It just happened to be Crosby, who was leveled near the boards.
Then 32 seconds into the game Claude scored the first goal. One goal and two assists later, the Flyers had a 5-1 victory over the Penguins -- and ousted their cross-state rivals in the first round of the playoffs.
"He's got a knack for being there when it matters most," Briere revealed. "That's not something you can teach. You have it or you don't. There's guys that score a lot when games are out of hand or they don't mean much. He always seems to score the big goals or make the big plays when it matters most."
"Anything you do, you want to be the best at it," Giroux said. "If that's to score goals or block shots or whatever it is, I'm going to try to do it ..."
Giroux said, honestly, "There's obviously pressure. Pressure? I hope so because I love pressure."
"He's our motor ... he's our engine ... we follow him everywhere," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said.
"He got this thing in his eyes where it was, 'You can't stop me,'" says Max Talbot. "He plays like Malkin but with the grit of Sid."
Think about that for a second. Imagine the possibilities. And listen to Giroux say, "Anything you do, you want to be the best at it."
Raymond, Giroux dad, who was an electrician, never thought his son would make it in the NHL. But ...
"We never expected him to be in the NHL at first," said Raymond. "According to lots of people, he was too small to be in the NHL."
"Shortly after I was born, I think, my dad put a stick in my hand and skates on my feet," Giroux said. "I'm not sure exactly how old I was when I started playing in an organized league, but I was probably four or five. I played my minor hockey in Hearst, up through peewee and have great memories of those years."
Not surprisingly, given the cultural and geographical logistics of his upbringing, Giroux was a fan of the Montreal Canadiens while growing up. Unfortunately, though, he was only five when the Habs captured the Stanley Cup in 1993, and didn't get to experience the full impact of the occasion.
"Obviously, the Canadiens are the most popular team where I'm from," Giroux said. "I always followed the team very closely and had a number of players I really admired."
But who, specifically, was his favorite player?
"Pavel Bure," explained Giroux. "He was just such an exciting player. I loved the way he used his speed and quickness. He would always do something different with the puck, something you maybe never saw before -– a fancy deke, a quick pass to an open teammate.
"He was just awesome on breakaways. I used to love to watch him play, a little in Vancouver, then with Florida and the Rangers. The way he could just fly around the rink was really impressive, and something I always wanted to emulate."
Claude Giroux made his name by his fearlessness. He revealed part of his violence on the ice was learned from Chris Pronger, a Hall of Fame player who won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim. Giroux said he learned about the power play at the end of his career was with the Flyers.
"He gave me a pretty good slash," Giroux recalled. "When you play against him, you don't realize how smart and good he is."
He paused to think about how good an influence Pronger was as a teammate.
"He was tough, he didn't talk a lot but when he did, guys listened," Giroux said. "When something had to be said, he was dead on it.
"He knew how to win and sometimes to win, you have to use tough love. ... When you play with him, it makes your job so much easier. I'm talking offensively. He is one of the best defensively, but you don’t realize how he was offensively.
"When we were on the power play, there was good structure. Me and him communicated real well. We kinda moved the puck and got shots through. I learned a lot on the power play from him."
Claude Giroux didn't get from 5-10, 140 pounds. Lots of hard work ... and plenty of good tips from guys like Chris Pronger.
Even Bobby Clarke know Giroux now.