BY RYAN ABER
When asked about playing in Hershey, Alexandre Giroux gets a gleam in his eye.
Giroux starred for the Bears for the last two-plus seasons before signing a one-way contract with Edmonton that pays him a reported $500,000 regardless of whether he’s in the NHL or AHL.
The money was nice, sure, but with more money on the table from the KHL, Giroux didn’t sign with the Oilers over a return shot to Hershey just for financial gain. He thought it was a better path to the NHL.
So far, it hasn’t worked.
Giroux returned to Hershey yesterday for the American Hockey League All-Star weekend. In yesterday’s skills competition, Giroux’s ovation was the biggest of the night.
Before he left, Giroux spoke fondly of his Hershey experience.
“You realize how good you have it when you leave,” Giroux said. “Obviously, the crowd makes a big difference. It’s not everywhere in this league that gets good crowds. I remember we’d go to Lowell and it seemed like there was a dozen people. When you’re in Hershey, on a Wednesday night of a Sunday, you’d have 8 or 9,000 people. It makes a hell of a difference when you go on a road trip and come back to a place that’s almost sold out.”
Giroux went on.
“Hershey always tries to contend for the cup. They tried to get good players. Washington wants to win up top and Hershey wants to win in the AHL.”
And while Giroux couldn’t wait to get back to the Giant Center, he was hopeful for the second half in Oklahoma City.
“Building-wise, Hershey’s like 10 of 11,000. Here, it’s a lot bigger, so even when we get good crowds, it doesn’t look as good as it sounds. I think it’s coming on pretty good the last few games.Hopefully the next half of the season, we get more people out.”
Giroux laments that a conservative approach early in his professional career might’ve cost him then and he wondders if it might be too late.
“I think it’s all about timing and if someone on top believes in you,” Giroux said. “I’m not saying nobody did but I’m just saying the combination of both has to be there.”
Giroux’s NHL stints have never lasted more than a handful of games.
“You play 12 games and the eight, ninth or tenth, that’s your best games, when you start to get in the mode,” Giroux said. “I wish I could’ve played 15-20 games in one year. Really, especially when you’re a goal scorer, you start to get that touch. When you’re a grinder, you can grind it out when you come up. A scorer, when you go up, you’ve got to still score goals.”
Giroux admits it’s been frustrating at times but has tried to remain positive.
“When some guys get sent back to the minors, they don’t do anything; they’re pissed off at the world. That’s the attitude I took when I figured out I might not be a regular in the NHL. Then I figured I might as well try to be the best in this league anyway,” he said.
SOME OTHER GIROUX TIDBITS:
-During his first call-up to Washington when Bruce Boudreau was coaching, Giroux walked into the locker room to check out the lines for that night’s game:
“Since I’d just been called up, I started at the bottom,” Giroux said. “I wasn’t on the fourth line and then moved up and I wasn’t on the third line and I’m thinking, ‘They called me up just to have me sit out?’ Then I see my name at the top, right next to (Alex) Ovechkin. I think because Bruce had me in Hershey, he knew that I needed to be there.”
Ovechkin did his best to relax the newcomer.
“He was great,” Giroux said. “He took me out to dinner and told me to just keep doing what I do and don’t worry about getting him the puck. Just play my game and he knew he would get his chances.”
-Giroux also caught Boudreau’s antics on HBO’s 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic.
“That’s just who he is,” Giroux said. “He wants to win as bad as anybody I’ve been around.”
-Giroux credited new teammate Bryan Helmer with helping him keep a positive attitude in the face of self doubt.
“I talked to Helmer two years ago when he was 35 or 36 and said, ‘What are you doing in this league?,’” Giroux said. “He said, ‘Listen, I still believe I can play in the NHL,’ and he did that year. As long as I play in this league, I’ll believe I can go up, even if it’s one game. I think it’ll make my year if I get a game or another chance.”
-Giroux’s father, Rejean, played with the Quebec Nordiques of the World Hockey Association for the 1972-73 season and for 12 games in 73-74.
“I started skating when I was 2 1/2 years old,” Giroux said. “I would tell my mom, ‘Why do I have to do my homework when I can just play hockey in the street with my brother.”
Giroux also hopes his native Quebec will get an NHL team once again.
“I was a big Nordiques fan growing up,” Giroux said. “I wish the team would come back. The city needs a team.”