The moment I fell in love with Claude Giroux

Skillful, fiery and full of swagger, Claude Giroux has been a staple of Philadelphia sports for the last decade. There are a plethora of plays that come to mind when we rhapsodize on the captain, but one play stands above all as the reason I fell in love.

During the 2009-10 season, the young Claude Giroux was entering his first full NHL campaign. The prior year, Giroux joined Philadelphia midway through the season from the AHL and suited up in 42 games, racking up a modest 27 points as a rookie. Coming into the 2009-10 season, the hype was real for the pride of Hearst, Ontario and the 22nd overall pick made a quick impact on the ice.

Giroux displayed an uncanny ability to maneuver through tight areas and use his shifty skating to set up scoring opportunities when none were readily available. He also had that cockiness that sometimes accompanies young players. It’s almost as if he was young and innocent enough to try plays that a typical veteran wouldn’t dare attempt.

Exhibit A:

In the words of Flyers play-by-play announcer Jim Jackson, “Oh, he can dazzle.”

Giroux wrapped up the 2009-10 regular season with 16 goals and 31 assists. He also scored what would be the clinching shootout goal in game No. 82 vs the New York Rangers. This goal — accompanied by a save by Brian Boucher — would propel the Flyers into the playoffs and onto a run that would culminate in their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1997.

Sure, the shootout goal was more than enough to sell me on Giroux, but what he would do just a month later in the Eastern Conference Semifinals would have me starry-eyed.

A historic comeback

The Flyers staged a miraculous comeback against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The team battled back from both a 3-0 series deficit, and a 3-0 hole in the deciding game seven.

Goals from James van Riemsdyk, Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere evened the game at three a-piece, while Simon Gagne scored the eventual game-winner with 7:08 remaining on the clock. Still a third of the final period remaining, the Flyers went into absolute shutdown mode, stymieing the Bruins and limiting quality scoring chances.

With just over two minutes remaining in the biggest game of the year, in just his second NHL season, the 22-year-old Giroux took the ice with the Flyers top line of Simon Gagne and Mike Richards. The mission: eat up the clock.

After creating a couple scoring opportunities, Giroux took a pass along the wall from Gagne and set up shop behind Tuukka Rask. From there, Giroux singlehandedly began one of the most electrifying defensive plays I’ve ever witnessed. With the puck cradled safely between his skates, Giroux began shuffling along the wall in the Bruins zone — all the while accosted by Patrice Bergeron and Johnny Boychuk.

For what felt like an eternity, Giroux bravely withstood the checks and trips of one of the game’s premier two-way players… and Boychuk. Giroux had the puck for so long that on two separate occasions a third Bruins player attempted to intervene.

Finally, veteran Mark Recchi was able to push the puck loose and force it back to his teammates.

All in all, the Bruins were hemmed in their own zone for nearly 40 seconds during this shift, 20 of which were a direct result of Giroux’s efforts along the wall. The Bruins exited their zone with only 1:40 remaining on the clock and were unable to muster a tying goal, completing one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

It wasn’t a flashy play or something that showed up on the scoreboard, but Giroux’s heroics in Boston will forever be etched in my mind.

Aided by the desperation in Jackson’s voice during the call and my own recollection of hurling encouragement at the TV with my mom and younger brother while we watched Giroux continually pick himself up off the ice, I still get teary eyed when I watch the highlight.

In many ways, it represents a microcosm of the series, the entire run to the Stanley Cup, what the Flyers would become over the next decade and Giroux’s career itself. As Flyers color commentator Bill Clement said of the play, “The Claude Giroux Show is officially on stage.”

Though overmatched by his opponent, Giroux kept pushing the boulder up the hill. Each time he fell, he got up more resolute than ever and continued to push. Emblematic of his entire career, Giroux literally placed the team’s hopes and aspirations on his back, put his head down and went to work.

It’s a play and attitude that has come to define the now captain of the Flyers and it remains the moment I — and many Philadelphians — fell head over heels in love.

A decade of memories

Ten years later, Giroux has added to his repertoire of memorable plays and moments. Whether it’s scoring an overtime game winner in the Stanley Cup Final, dunking on Sidney Crosby in game six of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals or setting Lincoln Financial Field ablaze with his overtime heroics in the 2019 Stadium Series, the plays are aplenty.

But no matter what, there’ll always be a part of me that sees him as that 22-year-old upstart that just refuses to give up the damn puck.

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