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In the midst of a shutout streak that would last 237 minutes and seven seconds, Anaheim Mighty Ducks goaltender Jean-Sébastien Giguere and a dozen teammates spent an afternoon last month visiting patients at the UC Irvine Medical Center. While Giguere distributed Ducks dolls and slippers to children in the cancer ward and paused to chat with parents, a young woman emerged from the nurses' station with a copy of The Orange County Register. The sports section had a photo of an Anaheim goalie splashed across the front page, and the nurse timidly asked Giguere for an autograph. He smiled and signed the picture, even though it was a photograph of backup Jean-François Damphousse.
The remarkable run in net—his shutout streak was the NHL's longest since 1950—hasn't made the 25-year-old Giguere a familiar face, but he deserves to be recognized. Through Saturday, he was 15-14-4 with a .912 save percentage and was tied for the league lead with five shutouts. In his first season as Anaheim's undisputed starter, Giguere has backed up his largely unnoticed breakout performance of last season, when his 2.13 goals-against average and .920 save percentage for the last-place Ducks were fifth in the league.
Giguere, who was selected 13th by the Hartford Whalers in the 1995 draft, was expected to succeed in the NHL sooner. After playing only eight games for Hartford, he was traded to the Calgary Flames in '97. Instead of winning the No. 1 job, however, he was inconsistent and shuttled between Calgary and the minors. In all, he played just 22 NHL games over two seasons for the Flames and regressed technically. "I was left on my own, and that's not good when you're a young guy," he says about the team's lack of a goalie coach. "You don't always know when you're making mistakes, and you start getting bad habits, and when things don't go well, you get down on yourself. Calgary gave me a chance and I wasn't ready."
Giguere's fortunes changed when he was acquired by the Ducks in June 2000. Anaheim goaltending consultant François Allaire simplified his technique, helping Giguere better read passes and urging patience in dropping into the butterfly. Those adjustments improved Giguere's game and restored his confidence.
This season, Allaire has stressed side-to-side mobility and rebound control, and has instructed Giguere to freeze the puck whenever possible. Goalies have been known to go halfheartedly at practice, but Giguere sees those sessions as essential laboratories for skill development. "He's one of the hardest-working practice players on this team," says winger Paul Kariya, "and he lets me know when he stops my shot."
Before his Dec. 15 shutout of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Giguere found a picture of himself at age 7, taken with Mario Lemieux during a chance encounter, and had an equipment staffer bring it to the Penguins' dressing room for an autograph. It was a reminder of the humility he retains from his working-class childhood in Montreal, where he and his four older siblings had paper routes to pay for hockey equipment, and his father, Claude, a prison guard, sometimes took out loans to pay for goalie gear. "My parents didn't want to deprive me," Giguere says. "I don't think they figured I would be in the NHL. They just wanted me to have fun."
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