Canadian Jean-Sébastien Giguère is no stranger to winning. He has hardware to prove it, including the Conn Smythe for playoffs MVP and the Holy Grail of hockey, Lord Stanley's Cup. Yet, the netminder is also well-acquainted with hard work. Despite a promising start in juniors, Giguère clawed his way up through the minors to become a starter for the team he'd help become champions.
Son to Claude and Gisele Giguère, Jean-Sébastien was only five years old when he knew he wanted to play hockey for the rest of his life. Unlike most players his age, however, he already had his heart set on stopping pucks. It certainly helped that he had five older siblings (three boys and two girls) who also loved - and excelled at - hockey, giving the young goalie plenty of rubber to turn away. Talent and desire were never a problem for him; growing up in a working class home with limited income (both of his parents were bus drivers) was. To help fund their passion, Giguère and his siblings worked paper routes, and their father took out a second mortgage on their house. The lessons of sacrifice, dedication and humility learned during those times have continued to show throughout the goaltender's career.By the time J.S. hit his teen years, he started making waves with his skill for proper positioning. At 12, he attended the first of three summer sessions at a Montreal goalie school headed up by Francois Allaire, a man who would later become instrumental in Giguère's professional success. In 1992, the 15-year-old hit the junior hockey scene, playing for Laval Regents in Laval, Quebec. Coincidentally, Allaire's brother, Benoit, was the team's goalie coach. Under his tutelage, the young player learned the staples of the goaltending style that became his trademark: take away the bottom of the net, play the angles, make the shooter hit you. The following year, he established himself as a top-tier goalie while playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) for Verdun Collège Français (1993-1994) and the Halifax Mooseheads (1994-1997).
At the end of his second season in the QMJHL, Giguère had impressed the Hartford Whalers' scouts enough to be selected in the first round of the 1995 Entry Draft (13th overall). He only played a total of 8 games with the club during the 1996-1997 season, however, before being traded to the Calgary Flames on August 25th, 2007. The following season was spent with the Flames' AHL affiliate, Saint John Flames, where he posted a .926 save percentage and a 2.46 goals against average in 31 games. Over the next two seasons, Giguère spent most of his time in Saint John, making brief appearances in Calgary. His play, however, was average at best, and he was traded to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim that off season (June, 2000).
With his confidence waning and his play suffering, J.S. turned to the man who first helped him: Francois Allaire, coincidentally Anaheim's goalie coach at the time. Allaire invited the struggling goaltender to be a coach at the very same summer school where the two first met. While there, Allaire guided him back to the player he was, emphasizing patience and simplicity.
Giguère started his first season with the Mighty Ducks' organization with their AHL club, but after only 23 games, was called up to play back up to current starter, Guy Hebert. As the season wore on, Allaire continued to work with J.S., polishing his game. When the team's losses started to pile up, Giguère knew his chance was soon to come. Sure enough, by the end of the 2000-2001 season, he took over the starting position for Anaheim, finishing with a 2.57 GAA and .911 save percentage (34 games).
J.S. signed a pretty new contract with the Mighty Ducks on August 17, 2001, and firmly solidified himself as the number one goaltender in training camp for the 2001-2002 season. He played a full 53 games that season, and more importantly, saw his continued hard work with Allaire start to pay dividends as he improved his numbers to 2.13 GAA and .920 save percentage. But it was the next season when Giguère showed the entire league that he was one of the elite.
Although the 2002-2003 started slowly for J.S., by December, he had put together a 237-minute scoreless streak, the longest for an NHL goaltender in the past 50 years. Due in large part to his stellar performance, the Mighty Ducks found themselves in the playoff picture. By the time the post season hit, Giguère had 34 wins and 8 shutouts under his belt. That was the good news. The bad news was that Anaheim was set to face the prior year's championship team, the Detroit Red Wings, in the first round. Shocking the hockey world, however, the Mighty Ducks swept the Wings in 4 games. They continued their hot streak, riding on stellar play by Giguère, all the way to the Stanley Cup finals where they faced the New Jersey Devils. It seemed the Cinderella story was going to come to an end, but with solid play in net, the team forced a best of 7 series. Despite losing a heartbreaking 7th game, J.S. Giguère was recognized for his impressive efforts, which included a 217-minute shut out streak (as well as 168 minute overtime playoff shut out streak), 1.62 GAA, .945 save percentage, and a 15-6 record. For the first time since Ron Hextall in 1987, a player from the losing team was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as playoff MVP.
That September, the goaltender signed a four-year, $20 million contract extension with Anaheim, but the 2003-2004 season was not a good one for Giguère. He returned after the lock out to an improved Anaheim club and an improved performance for the 2005-2006 season. The Mighty Ducks hit the playoffs again, but after just four games, back up Ilya Bryzgalov took over the number one position for the remainder of the run. Entering the final year of his contract, the starting position was up for grabs and J.S. made it clear it was his. During October of the 2006-2007 season, he did not lose a single game in regulation and posted a career-high 36 wins in 56 games. The post season, though not as dramatic as that of 2003, was the most memorable for Giguère for two reasons: his first child, son Maxime-Oliver, was born, and he lifted the Stanley Cup over his head. His 1.97 GAA and .922 save percentage had much to do with Anaheim - and California - bringing home their first Cup.
Another contract, another stellar season for 2007-2008: 35-17-6, and career-best 2.12 GAA. Things took a turn for the worse from 2008-2010, though, when a hot back up in Jonas Hiller changed the goaltending landscape for Giguère. In what some believe as a move to force Anaheim's hand to give him back his starting position, J.S. uncharacteristically went public with his frustration, telling the L.A. Daily News that he "would rather retire than be a back up goalie." The Ducks granted his wish although not in the manner he hoped: they traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 31, 2010, where he became the team's starting goaltender. Immediately, his play improved and he posted a couple of shut outs, a 2.49 GAA and .916 save percentage in 15 games. Unfortunately, he suffered the first of three groin injuries that limited him to only 33 games and average numbers. Giguère's tenure with the Leafs ended at the close of the 2010-2011 season.
Since joining the Colorado Avalanche in July of 2011, Giguère has embraced the role of mentor and back up to up-and-coming Semyon Varlamov. "When they signed me, that's what they were looking for — me helping him along to be a good No. 1 goalie, and I think it's going really well," Giguère was quoted in the Denver Post as saying. "I'm not his coach. I'm not there to coach him. But at the same time, I'm here to be a good teammate and support him. I've been him when I was his age. I know what it's like to try to become the goalie you want to be." But don't think that Jiggy is going to settle for being a back up. Like any true competitor, he still wants the top prize, and if the opportunity presents itself, don't be surprised if you see the 34-year-old looking like that award-winning goaltender once again. Whatever happens, you can guarantee that the affable, warm, and generous veteran will strengthen the young Avalanche team with his steady, calm presence - both on and off the ice.