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WEST GOSHEN — When the Downingtown middle school hockey team showed up early for its 5 o’clock game — the first game of the season — the players weren’t expecting to have a surprise guest greet them on the ice.
As far as they knew, it was just some mini practice.
The star forward spent half an hour on the ice, teaching the young players some moves on the breakaway and giving some tips on other things as well.
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“Anytime I have time to do this, it’s always fun,” Giroux said.
He also stuck around to give a pregame pep talk and allowed the kids to ask him anything that was on their minds — including his favorite team to play against.
“It’s fun to play Pittsburgh,” Giroux said, which brought out some boos and laughter in the locker room. “It’s pretty intense and they’re a really good team. It’s always a good game and pretty exciting.”
He was also able to reminisce a bit with questions such as his favorite goal he’s ever scored — the overtime winner in Game 3 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals — and what it was like when he was at this age.
“When I was your age and a little bit older, I just played the game,” Giroux said. “I didn’t think I had a chance to play in the NHL. I had one good year and the scouts came to see me. That’s when I realized I had a chance. I’m just having fun doing it. Anytime your job is to play hockey and get paid for it, you’re pretty lucky.”
All of this for the kids was in part due to AAA, which opened a new store in West Chester and featured Giroux as one of the ribbon cutters.
“Claude is our Brand Ambassador,” said C.J. Quirk, the manager of Partnership Marketing with AAA. “We have a marketing partnership with the Flyers and we have really gotten involved in the youth hockey leagues through their network.”
One of those leagues is the Ice Line Middle School League, which features the Downingtown team.
“We sponsor their league,” Quirk said. “So (Giroux) came out and put on a skills clinic on the ice with the kids. We’re activating through the youth hockey league networks, but we’re really talking to their parents.”
Parents, of course, being the ones who take the kids from Point A to Point B during hockey season.
“Literally, where AAA comes into play in these young athletes is when they’re running around with practices, games and tournaments,” Quick said. “They spend a lot of time on the road and that’s where AAA comes in with our car care centers, our insurance, our discounts program, as well as our roadside assistance. It’s keeping these guys safely on the road.”
And what better person to deliver that message than someone who was a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player last season?
“He’s great with the kids,” Quirk said. “He understands what we’re trying to do and the message we’re trying to get out there. He loves being out in the community and doing these kinds of things.”
For Giroux, he remembers a time when he was in these kids’ skates and an NHL player visited him.
“The first NHL player I met was Eric Desjardins,” Giroux said. He came to my small town of Hearst. Just a chance to meet him was pretty impressive.”
What’s even more impressive to the 26 year old is being able to sit back and watch his sport rapidly grow in the Philadelphia area, even out in Chester County.
“It’s really growing here in Philly,” he said. “I’ve been here for seven years and I can see that every year, it’s growing faster and faster. It’s great to see.”
He left the young players with a message his coaches taught him years ago:
“Have fun,” Giroux said. “You can have a couple bad games and you start being down on yourself, but it’s only a game. You have to go out there and play your game, have fun and remember why you’re playing the game. It’s a great game to play.
“It’s important to play as a team. Make sure you support your teammates all year. You guys become a small family together. You have to enjoy that.”