Giroux wins Wanamaker Athletic Award
PHILADELPHIA -- So how good a run through the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs did Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux have?
He hasn't played since May 6, had surgery on both wrists, got the casts off and still no one has scored more goals in the postseason than the eight he had in his 10-game playoff run. His 17 points remained the best in the League until New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk passed him in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He's still tied for third, with only Kovalchuk and Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar having more -- by just one point.
Giroux was honored Tuesday by the Philadelphia Sports Congress with the Wanamaker Athletic Award, given annually since 1961 to the athlete, team or organization that has done the most to reflect credit upon Philadelphia and to the team or sport in which they excel. He's only the third individual Flyers player to win the award, following Bobby Clarke in 1974 and Bernie Parent in 1975.
The award was presented during a luncheon at the Crystal Tea Room inside the historic Wanamaker Building.
However, Giroux said he'd trade the goals, points and awards in a heartbeat if it meant he'd still be playing right now.
"Stats don't really matter," he said. "It's about being able to play in the [Stanley Cup] Final. If I had two goals and we were in the Final, I'd be more happy with that."
Giroux's astounding playoff run was just the capper to a breakthrough season that saw him emerge as one of the top players in the League. Pushed into the spotlight a year ago by the trades of All-Star centers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, Giroux took ownership of the Flyers' first line and finished third in the League in scoring with 93 points, and second with 65 assists. It was the most points scored by a Flyer since Eric Lindros had 93 in 1998-99, and the assists were the most by a Flyer since Mark Recchi had 67 in 1993-94.
Flyers GM Paul Holmgren had stated that one of the reasons he felt comfortable moving Carter and Richards was his belief that Giroux was ready to step into a prime role. So when looking back at Giroux's season, Holmgren said he thought this was the natural progression for the 24-year-old.
"If you look at his point totals the last couple years, with not playing on the top power play, not getting the opportunities that he got this year, I'm not really surprised," Holmgren said. "But it was certainly fun to watch his rise."
During the playoffs, though, Giroux emerged as a star off the ice. He went to Flyers coach Peter Laviolette prior to Game 6 of the first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and demanded to take the first shift of the game. He leveled Penguins captain Sidney Crosby six seconds in, and then turned a Steve Sullivan turnover into the game's first goal 32 seconds into the game, sparking the Flyers to a series-clinching 5-1 victory.
"When the best player in the world comes up to you and says, 'I don't know who you plan on starting tonight, but I want that first shift,'" Laviolette said that night, "that says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux."
On Tuesday, Laviolette compared it to a baseball player who "called his shot."
"What was special about that moment and really paints a picture of Claude, not only is he counted on on the ice, but his competitiveness and character that we get to see from the inside on a daily basis and what truly makes him deserving of this award, is somebody really called his shot," Laviolette said. "Probably 12 years since I've been coaching, no athlete has every come up and said that they want to do something, that he had to do it, had to have that first shift. … Before the game, Claude had come up to me and said, 'I don't know where you're going with that first shift, but I really want that first shift.' We're in our building, there's 20,000 fans in the Wells Fargo Center and here's a young athlete who's growing every day with his stardom in the League. And what I found out afterward is right before he went out for the faceoff, he took his last sip of water by the bench and he told two of his teammates, 'Wait until you see this.'
"He set the tone for the day and got us through the series. To me, that exemplifies the person who should win this award."
Perhaps more impressive was the fact that Giroux accomplished most of what he did this season with wrists that required surgery not long after the playoffs ended. He needed a procedure on his right wrist to repair torn cartilage and one on his left wrist to remove bone spurs. Recovery time was expected to be about six weeks.
Giroux credited Flyers' head athletic trainer Jim McCrossin and assistant trainer Sal Raffa for keeping him able to play through the pain.
"It was up and down during the season," he said. "I seriously was lucky to have Jimmy McCrossin and Sal Raffa to help me get the recovery. I was real lucky. It wasn't that bad, we just felt like it was good to get it out of the way and we don't have any problems anymore."
Giroux said the injuries most affected his ability to take faceoffs, something he did less and less of as the playoffs wore on. He said one wrist didn't give him more trouble than the other, that, "It was on and off, first this one, then that one. Sometimes both."
Flyers founder and team chairman Ed Snider -- also honored Tuesday with the Philadelphia Sports Congress' Lifetime Achievement Award -- said watching Giroux fight through the pain each night was impressive.
"He's a superstar now in this League," Snider said. "He's a top player in the League. We're lucky to have him. I think he's going to get better and better every single year. He's an outstanding player. He played with two bad wrists in the playoffs. … Even though he wasn't at his best, he still excelled in the playoffs. Just tells you what we've got here."
While Giroux won't win the Stanley Cup this season, there could be an award of a different kind in his near future. He was picked as one of the finalists to be the cover athlete of EA Sports' NHL13 video game. With more than 25 million votes cast by hockey fans, Giroux and Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne battled to the championship round, with the winner set to be announced June 20 at the NHL Awards in Las Vegas.
The Flyers led a massive push through traditional and social media to help garner votes for Giroux, and he even received help from athletes in other sports, among them NFL players Jeremy Maclin of the Philadelphia Eagles, Christian Ponder of the Minnesota Vikings and Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens, who encouraged their Twitter followers to vote for Giroux.
"It's not something you think of as a kid," he said. "Your dream is to play in the NHL, it's not to be on the cover [of a video game]. But now that I have a chance to be on the cover, it's pretty cool. All my buddies are pretty excited. Without the fans I wouldn't be in that position at all. All the voting, it's all about the fans. I'm pretty lucky to have a lot of fans."
Not that Giroux will be able to play any video games anytime soon. He's still recovering from the dual wrist procedures that have limited his offseason training to lower-body exercises only.
When he does get back to full-bore training, Giroux said he's not feeling any extra pressure to surpass what he accomplished in 2011-12. But he said he knows he'll have to work even harder going forward.
"Anything you do you want to be the best at it," he said. "You want to get better. If you don't want to get belter, that's not a very good attitude. When Jags [Jaromir Jagr] came this year he made me realize if you want to get belter you've got to work. I've been trying to work as hard as I can. Hopefully we can do the same next year."