Thursday, August 14, 2014

Jean-Sébastien Giguère Jersey Card

I'd been holding onto this scanned picture since May, assuming that Jean-Sébastien Giguère would officially announce his retirement from the NHL early in the summer, and it has turned out not to be the case, though some reports hinted at that; however, when Patrick Roy was in town for a charity golf tournament recently, he mentioned he didn't know what Giguère's plans were, but that the Colorado Avalanche were proceeding next season with Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra in nets.

But I have plenty of other J.-S. Giguère cards to feature (including a game-used glove one), so when the word officially comes, I'll have another go at it.

I've followed in his footsteps for years. He was a year older than I was, but we played in many of the same tournaments in Pee-wee, Bantam and Midget; he played his Midget AAA with Laval-Laurentides-Lanaudière while I played for Montréal-Bourassa Collège-Français, but the year after my Grade 11, Collège-Français switched its affiliation to Major Junior, and he played for them as they operated out of the Verdun Auditorium, then was traded to the Halifax Mooseheads; upon graduating, I went to play my Junior hockey with the Laval Titan, who took on the Collège-Français affiliation - we'd switcharooed. This was 1995-96.

I wasn't the biggest fan of the culture of violence that Laval represented, and as third-string goalie, I was mostly sparingly used as an additional enforcer the team could use. I'm not even on HockeyDB, though I suited up for 5 games and had over 80 penalty minutes, probably because I played in less than a total minute - I'd played a lot more in pre-season and spring training.

In any event, for the season and a half I spent in Laval, I wasn't seeing many shots, and my reflexes weren't getting the workload they needed, so I asked for permission to play with the unofficial team from my College, Brébeuf, if it didn't interfere with Titan games. Some time in November 1996, my 5-0 record with a 1.00 GAA was shattered in an 11-2 pounding at the hands of another school's official team. I didn't know it then, but that was to be my final formal-setting game.

A week or two later, Laval traded my rights to... Halifax. Halifax had Giguère, the best non-professional goalie in Canada. What it didn't have was a Cégep - pre-university colleges that only exist in Québec. I didn't have a Grade 12 education so I couldn't jump directly to university, and my time at Brébeuf (a Cégep) didn't count. I had to balance it all out, and the way it looked to me was this: if I went, I would never play, as I'd be behind the best in the country, and probably behind the other guy they already had backing him up; I wouldn't be able to get an education right away; and my music career - which I had going for me in Montréal in parallel to school, hockey and girls - would be on hiatus as well. I chose to decline reporting to the team and, effectively, retire.

Near the Holidays, the Hartford Whalers, who had drafted Giguère 13th overall at the 1995 draft, got in a bit of a bind when Sean Burke - one of my favourite goalies growing up! - fell to injury; they recalled Giggy from Juniors rather than have their backup Jason Muzzati - or guys they had in the AHL or ECHL - play; that net in Halifax may very well have been mine for a whole month to show what I could do.

But I have no regrets.

The 8 games Giguère played for the Whalers that year would be all he'd give that organization, as they traded him to the Calgary Flames (with Andrew Cassels, for Gary Roberts and Trevor Kidd), but he mostly spent his time with their AHL affiliate, winning the best goals-against trophy.

It was a trade to the Mighty Ducks Of Anaheim that would forever define his career. He played parts of 9 seasons with the franchise, winning the Conn Smythe trophy in a losing cause in 2003, and the Stanley Cup in 2007. He was an All-Star, was often voted among the top-10 in Vezina-worthy goalies, was in the running for the Hart once, and even got a (first-place) vote in the Lady Byng race (a rare occurence for a goalie) in 2007-08. He won over 30 games with them 4 times, and is still the team leader in wins.

He ended his career with backup stints in Toronto (a year and a half), and two seasons with the Avs. Even last season, he was still among the best in the league at positionning - which can be traced to still being tied to genius goaltending coach François Allaire - but was a few milliseconds away from the sharpness of his past reflexes. Roy even called him out in the Montréal media last season.

Then again, Giguère had called out some of his own teammates the year before, saying:
Some guys are more worried about their [Las] Vegas trip at the end of the season than playing the games, than playing every minute of the games.
True words from a veteran leader, but also the type of words that come back to haunt you later, like, say, when a new head coach needs to put his young leaders on the same page and needs a common focal point for all.

And so it's fitting to show him wearing the Avs' white (away) uniform, with a matching swatch with some stitching (it's probably from the fight-strap at the back of the jersey), from Upper Deck's 2013-14 Series 1 set (card #GJ-JG of the Game Jersey sub-set), complete with deceased UD CEO Richard McWilliam's guarantee of authenticity:
I'll analyze his impact on the game - and on his teams - in a later post, but he truly was a game-changing player. I wish him the best, retirement or not.

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