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STANLEY CUP FINALS Ducks at New Jersey, Game 1, Tuesday,
5 p.m. PDT, ESPN

From Quebec, With Love

May 26, 2003|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."

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