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HELENE ELLIOTT

A bittersweet All-Star weekend for Jean-Sebastien Giguere

The Ducks goalie has had a difficult season on the ice and off, with the recent death of his father.

January 25, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

The crowd at the Bell Centre today will roar for one of its own, the hometown kid who made it big in the NHL and brought the Stanley Cup back to Montreal -- though only for a visit -- in the summer of 2007.

But when the starters are announced for today's All-Star game and Jean-Sebastien Giguere's name is called for the West, the Ducks' goaltender will be looking for someone who is not there, listening for a voice that was silenced too soon.

Giguere's father, Claude, who bought the second-hand gear that launched his youngest son's hockey career, died on Dec. 15 after valiantly fighting cancer that began in his colon and spread throughout his body. Claude rallied after J.S. visited him in late November but the disease won out before he could see his son's All-Star moment.

"But I know he's going to be there, somewhere, watching," Giguere said. "He's no stranger to me being there, too, I think. You've got to believe that he'll be there."

Giguere deserves that much comfort during a season that ranks among his most puzzling and least successful.

He has struggled to make basic saves on shots he once snared quickly and cleanly, goals that can't completely be blamed on the piecemeal defense the Ducks have had to cobble together after they traded Sean O'Donnell to the Kings and lost Francois Beauchemin to a knee injury.

Giguere, 31, has earned only one victory in his last nine appearances and has been yanked twice in that span. His most recent early exit occurred less than 15 minutes into the Ducks' 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders in their final game before the All-Star break, after he gave up two goals on seven shots.

He was angry when he returned to the bench, and rightly so. The loss left the Ducks clinging to eighth place in the West, and though they're not as speedy or solid defensively as they were two seasons ago they should be better than a fringe playoff team.

Giguere, too, should be better than 12-12-4 with a 3.04 goals-against average and .905 save percentage.

"I'm not super satisfied with the way I'm playing. I'm not feeling super confident when I'm out there," he said. "I'm second-guessing myself sometimes, which is not good as an athlete. You don't want to go out there and be thinking and be on your heels. You want to be reacting, square and confident that you'll make that save on anything that's thrown at you.

"That side of the game has been hard. It's something that you've got to deal with every once in a while during your career. I've been through this before. It's been a lot worse before and I've come out of it a better goalie."

His slump may be the least of the tests he has endured the past few years.

His son, Maxime, was born in April 2007 with a malformed right eye that required surgery when the boy was 2 months old. The procedure couldn't give the child sight in that eye but doctors preserved it in the hope that some still-unimaginable operation might someday accomplish that.

Giguere and his wife, Kristen, enrolled Maxime in the Blind Children's Learning Center in Tustin but otherwise let him run and play as 21-month-old kids do. He wears special glasses to protect his good eye but is otherwise a happy, healthy little boy.

"We're going to try not to put him in situations, when he's older, where he can't be successful. At the same time he's going to be a normal kid," Giguere said.

"He's got to learn to live with his disability. From what I've learned and talked to people who have similar, or lost an eye or whatever, you can't even tell. They all drive, and there's a guy I know who plays in the East Coast Hockey League and he's very successful. There's a lot of things that he'll be able to do."

More recently, there was his father's illness, diagnosed eight months before he died. Giguere's mother, Gisele, has long suffered from Alzheimer's and the possibility of also losing his father hit him hard.

He will always be grateful that he was able to be with his siblings and express his love to his father before Claude died.

"But you always want to say more," Giguere said. "We all got to say our goodbyes.

"I think for the person dying it's probably better if you go like this," he said, snapping his fingers, "because you're not suffering. But for us I think dealing with his death was easier -- well, not easier but we got to talk to him one last time.

"I think it's just the grieving part we did more before so we don't have to do it as much after. You don't like to deal with death but everybody is going to go through it and it was a beautiful way to do it. That's the way I would want to go, if you could choose."

Yet, in the midst of death and disappointment there is also hope in his life. Jean-Sebastien and Kristen are expecting their second child July 4, and although they don't know the gender, they might incorporate Claude's or Gisele's name into the baby's middle name.

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