TORONTO – Jean-Sebastien Giguere wants to be a good leader, hard worker and solid mentor. More than anything, he just wants his old job back, saying he will use his time with the Toronto Maple Leafs to try “to re-establish myself as a No. 1 goalie in this league.”
It is a designation he has struggled to maintain throughout his career, despite owning a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup ring. Giguere lost the job in Anaheim, where he said he would rather retire than play as a backup, and has relocated across the continent for another chance to prove himself.
“He’s a fighter, for sure,” Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire said. “He’s had to fight for his job all the way down.”
Acquired in a flurry of activity by Toronto general manager Brian Burke last Sunday, Giguere made 30 saves in his debut on Tuesday en route to a 3-0 shutout win over the New Jersey Devils. On Wednesday, he was asked about the pressure of playing in a hockey-mad market, and the one struggle over which he had almost no control.
His first child, a son, Maxime Olivier, was born in the spring of 2007, just as the Ducks were preparing for the playoffs. Giguere and his wife learned their son had been born with a deformed right eye, and were confronted with the possibility his left eye was also damaged.
There was a series of consultations with experts in Southern California, some made with the help of team ownership. Giguere missed the final three games of the regular season to be with his family.
“There wasn’t much to say,” former Ducks teammate Francois Beauchemin said. “It’s a really tough situation and we never really talked about that when it happened. He would just tell us what was going on with Max, and making sure he was OK. His life wasn’t in danger, but it was tough.”
The medical experts eventually told Giguere they expected his son to have normal sight in his left eye. And he returned to the team, where he had to begin the playoffs as a backup before returning to the helm and leading the Ducks to a Stanley Cup title – the first for any team in California.
Giguere signed a four-year contract with the Ducks that summer, a deal that contained a no-trade clause he waived to enable the move to Toronto. Jonas Hiller had become the starter in Anaheim, and with his son’s health improved, Giguere was able to make a move.
“He needs to see a doctor maybe once every six or seven months,” Giguere said Wednesday. “It’s no big deal. We can go through a season without having to see a doctor, and we’re only a short flight from here to L.A.”
But he seems to be a long way from being a backup.
“Who starts, that’s up to the coach,” Burke said Wednesday. “But we didn’t bring him here to back up. He’s a legitimate starting goaltender, his work ethic is the best in the NHL at the position, and we thought he’d be an ideal guy to bring along our young goaltender, Jonas Gustavsson. We’re really happy with his coming here.”
Leafs coach Ron Wilson said Giguere will be busy down the stretch drive of Toronto’s regular season schedule, though he said Gustavsson will get some work this weekend.
Giguere played in 20 games with the Ducks this season. It was not the first setback of his career, which began with a false start in Hartford and a handful of side trips to the AHL when he was trying to catch on in Calgary and, finally, with Anaheim.
“Giggy is a very persistent guy, he’s a guy who likes to compete,” Allaire said. “He takes his job really seriously.
“It’s not just coming to have fun. He’s going to have fun, but he’s going to be very professional – he’s going to do everything we ask of him to do in the gym, he’s going to do his treatment.”
And with all he has been through in his career, on the ice and off, Giguere is not concerned with the pressure of playing in Toronto.
“It’s hockey,” he said. “We’re here to try to have fun, to try to work hard. I think that if you work hard, and if you prepare yourself the right way, then there’s no reason why things shouldn’t go well.”
– with files from James Bisson of The Canadian Press.