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The Family Behind the NHL Player

From Helene Elliott in the LA Times blog, The Fabulous Forum:

Claude Giguere, father of Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, died Monday in Montreal of an undisclosed illness. A former school bus driver, corrections officer and stoker on a navy ship, he bought J.S.—his youngest child—the boy’s first goaltending equipment.

In this 2003 story, published before the Ducks opened the Stanley Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils, you can get a sense of how down-to-earth Claude Giguere was and understand how J.S. has turned out to be the classy and upstanding person that he is.

For some reason, Elliott’s blog post only provides a link to the .doc file of her 2003 story (which you can download here) so I took the liberty of reprinting it below. If someone informs me of a web link available later, I’ll remove this printing and link to the Times source.

Monday May 26, 2003

STANLEY CUP FINALS Ducks at New Jersey, Game 1, Tuesday, 5 p.m. PDT, ESPN
FROM QUEBEC, WITH LOVE
Home Edition, Sports, Page D-1

By Helene Elliott, Times Staff Writer

BLAINVILLE, Canada—It is Stephane Giguere’s turn to be host of his family’s weekly get-together, so aunts and uncles sit at his dining room table on chairs borrowed from everywhere in the house, nieces and nephews fill the living room, brothers, sisters and cousins mill around the kitchen, and three grandchildren play in the basement.

Everywhere, a Giguere. Some crawl. Some sprawl. All seem to have boundless energy and strong lungs, weaving a tapestry of laughter and love that envelops the neat, airy home about 45 minutes north of Montreal.

“It’s not fancy, it’s just to meet,” patriarch Claude Giguere says of the pizza-and-salad dinner and ice cream dessert. “Since my father died, I have liked to have my family around me.”

One of his five children, however, is missing. Physically, anyway.

Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Mighty Ducks, youngest child of Claude and Gisele and the sensation of the Stanley Cup playoffs, is there in spirit and in the signature on the Duck cap and jersey worn by a young cousin, Cedric. Although he’s away preparing for the start of the opener of the finals Tuesday in New Jersey, he’s always in the hearts of the relatives who marvel at what the runt of their litter, the kid they called “Ti cul,” which translates roughly to “little pest,” has accomplished in far-off Anaheim.

Isabelle, fourth in line and closest in age to the 26-year-old brother she calls “Sebast,” is enough like him in bone structure and features to be his twin. A colleague on the Boisbriand police force told her after a Duck game, “I saw you on TV, it was your face but you had a beard.” She said she always knew her brother had talent, but she wondered if his team’s skills equaled his.

“We’re surprised they could go so far along in the playoffs, but we’re not surprised at him,” said Isabelle, 28, who played hockey and refereed the gold-medal game in the 1998 women’s Olympic hockey tournament but has since become a police officer.

“He lost confidence when he was with Calgary, but he regained it in Anaheim. Last year he was playing better and this year, even better.”

Stephane, who played one year in the minors at Flint, Mich., before returning to school and taking up community police work, is the oldest of the siblings. A gracious host to this gathering of his father’s side of the family, he paused while dishing out food and scooping up stray toddlers to contemplate the notion that the kid who used to follow him around like a shadow is now casting a giant shadow himself.

“Sometimes I don’t believe it,” said Stephane, 35, a slighter, blue-eyed version of his green-eyed brother. “I say I’m dreaming, especially when you say Stanley Cup finals. I know he’s good, but to go so far like that and be so close to the Stanley Cup…. Sometimes I pinch myself.”

Isabelle is too nervous to join the family to watch her baby brother play. “I would like to be on the ice,” she said, smiling. She remains in her home, which is near those of brothers Stephane and Alain, sister Caroline, and her parents. “I just stay on my couch. I don’t move,” she said. “I just want to be in the game.”

Isabelle, who has a 4-year-old daughter, and Caroline, the mother of four, keep an eye on Jean-Sebastien’s home while he’s gone and spruce it up before he returns. Located in a development where houses are still sprouting from the ground, it’s about 10 minutes from his family’s neighborhood. His sisters and brothers helped paint the well-decorated interior; Alain, an electrician, teamed with Stephane to craft the brickwork on the front walkway and large rear patio and to create a basement haven complete with a foosball table.

Other than a pair of spare skates and some old goalie pads stashed in the garage, the basement holds the only evidence a prominent athlete lives in that house.

On one wall hang autographed goalie sticks given to Giguere by his childhood idol, Patrick Roy, and by Wayne Gretzky. The other wall is a backdrop for framed jerseys from his first season with the Ducks and from Team Canada last year. In the window sits a glass sculpture awarded him for being chosen the American Hockey League goaltender of the month for October 2000 with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, and by the bar is a vibrant oil painting of him in action.

He will win more awards, perhaps even the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. No matter. His siblings say the trappings of celebrity won’t ensnare him.

“My brother is a low-profile player. You have to pull his tongue to know what he has to say,” Stephane said. “He’s still a quiet person. I talk to him and say, ‘How’s everything?’ and he will say, ‘Good.’ I will say, ‘How do you feel?’ He will say, ‘Good.’ I will say, ‘Don’t you have something else to say?’

“He will never think he is over everybody. I hope not. I hope he’s just going to play his game. If not, if he ever gets fussy, tell me and I’m going to talk to him.”

Someone in the family talks to Jean-Sebastien every few days, and they often ask him to relate details of his performances. Claude Giguere can’t watch his son’s home games on TV because the games start at 10:30 p.m. Eastern time and Claude rises early to drive a school bus. Before that, he was a corrections officer, and before that, a stoker on a Navy ship.

Claude saw the world but returned to Quebec, where his ancestors have lived for about 400 years. He is as proud of his four oldest children as he is of his youngest, and he is no prouder of Jean-Sebastien now than before the goalie led the Ducks to the Cup finals for the first time in club history.

The difference is now Claude must share Jean-Sebastien with the English-speaking world beyond Blainville. It is, for many Quebecois, a dangerous place because it threatens their carefully preserved traditions of speaking French and holding family close. Jean-Sebastien spoke little English until he went to Halifax to play junior hockey at age 17, but he moves easily in that world and next month will marry a Halifax woman whose native tongue is English, though she speaks French.

“We like to keep our traditions for our children. It’s not easy in a sea of Anglophiles,” Claude said. “I don’t mind if the children learn English as a second language. It’s good to know in the business world. We don’t own our children. He’s free to do whatever he wants. But I hope he will keep in contact with us and remember where he comes from and the people who raised him.”

There’s little chance he will forget his origins, even though he plans to spend part of the summer in Halifax after his wedding.

“He’s a good kid. A nice person,” Claude Giguere said. “When he was young he was always a quiet kid. He’d never make noise. He used to go to the rink with us and go sit in the stands behind the net and watch. He’d never run around like most kids, asking for ice cream or chocolate….

“My first son was drafted, so I believed it could happen for him, but there are so many obstacles in the way. We always knew he was going to be good, but he needed good surroundings to exploit his talent, and he has that now with [goalie coach] Francois Allaire and the Mighty Ducks. Maybe now he plays exceptionally well. Usually a goalie if he has a 92% save percentage, that’s exceptional. The numbers he has in the playoffs now are outstanding.”
Money was never plentiful in the Giguere household, but they got by.

“When he started playing goal, his first year, he was only 7. I bought him second-hand equipment because we didn’t know if he was going to stay a goalie and like it, or if he’d be good,” Claude said. “After the first season, he was excellent. We were lucky because when he got to be midget [age], 15 years old, he was already sponsored by a company for his equipment. They still supply it, so they’re getting a good deal. He’s a payback now for them. They don’t get payback from every kid.”

Jean-Sebastien played in summer leagues and went to five high schools. He always knew he wanted to play in the NHL, but he felt lost in the Calgary Flames’ farm system, where he had landed after being traded by Carolina. Typically, he kept his feelings to himself.

“His career was going in circles the three years he was there, but he kept working and hoping something would happen,” Claude Giguere said. “And it did happen, when he was traded to Anaheim. We were very happy when he phoned us and told us he was traded there.”

Claude visited his son in Anaheim last winter and accompanied the fathers of about a dozen other Duck players on a brief trip. He hopes to attend at least one game of the Cup finals in New Jersey, and Stephane is hoping to make it to California. If the Ducks prevail and Jean-Sebastien brings the Cup to Blainville, the family will hold a celebration—“A huge party,” said Jean-Sebastien’s godmother, Carole—and Isabelle has her own plan.

“I will touch it and I will drink something from it, for sure,” she said. “It will be the first time, and maybe the last.”

Stephane has already envisioned the moment his little brother lives out both brothers’ dream.

“I already reserved a firefighters’ truck and I will put the Stanley Cup on the top and take it all around the streets,” Stephane said. “I’m so nervous. I’m just thinking he’s going to play in the Stanley Cup finals and my hands are getting wet. But it’s good. He deserves it. He has worked hard for this.”

And who would know better?

Filed in: NHL Teams, Anaheim Ducks, | KK Hockey | Permalink
  Tags: claude+giguere, jean-sebastien+giguere

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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