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Giroux finds time in his schedule to sign his first NHL contract

Damien Giroux has always kept busy.

For almost all of his relatively young life - the Valley East native celebrated his 20th birthday on March 3rd - that busyness has involved hockey.

In life before COVID-19, Giroux envisioned the Saginaw Spirit, the OHL squad for which he proudly dons the "C" of team captaincy, battling in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs this week, intent on following up a 2018-2019 campaign that saw them make it to the final four of Ontario Hockey League post-season play.

Sadly, he accepts the fact that this will not happen this year.

Thankfully, his life is not without bright moments.

Earlier this week, Giroux was inked to an NHL entry-level contract with the Minnesota Wild, the same folks, albeit with different management in place, who selected the talented local in the fifth round of the 2018 entry draft.

Like most Sudburians, Giroux is trying to cope with the uniqueness of these times, as best as he can. "I've been trying to keep busy and focus on the positives," said the well-spoken young man who had compiled 44 goals and 31 assists in 61 games, before his season was cut short.

"I've been watching movies and working out with my brother (Zacharie is a third round 2019 pick of the Flint Firebirds of the OHL), shooting pucks. Unfortunately, the ODR (outdoor rink) is out of commission right now, but we try and get out there to shoot pucks as much as possible."

While disapointment runs rampant across junior hockey, at the moment, few franchises feel the hit more than those who positioned themselves for a deep playoff run. "With being so close last year and just falling short, and everyone being so hungry to get back to the conference final, and then you look at the moves that we made, trading away so many picks to acquire some top end talent - it's a difficult pill to swallow."

"But you have to look at it from the other side and know that there is a bigger picture."

Part of life beyond 2019-2020, for Giroux in particular, lie in trying to finalize contract details with the Wild, with drafted players subject to having to be returned to the draft, should they not be signed within two years of their initial selection.

Though that ultimatum was only months away, Giroux was not all that concerned.

"To be honest with you, I really wasn't too worried about it," he said. "It was kind of in the back of my mind, just a bit, but I knew if I kept on working hard enough and long enough, that eventually everything would play itself out."

Hard work has always been at the forefront of the Damien Giroux game.

And if you have any doubts, just ask opposing coaches. On Thursday, the annual OHL Coaches Poll revealed that Giroux was determined to be both the Hardest Working Player and the Best Defensive Forward in his conference, extremely high praise indeed.

Both of these priorities - and let's keep in mind that Giroux has also netted 101 goals in four years of junior hockey, to date - were at the forefront, as the product of the Nickel City Hockey Association addressed his immediate future in 2020-2021, and the possibility that he could return as an overage forward to Saginaw.

"There is always that chance of going back to the OHL, but the way I am approaching it is that I am going to work as hard as I can, this summer, on and off the ice, to make sure that I do get a chance at cracking that lineup in the American League," he said.

While the NHL is the end goal, Giroux is wonderfully realistic. The most logical next step to continue his development is most likely with the Iowa Wild, the AHL affiliate of the Minnesota NHLers. His path is most certainly paved by playing to his strengths.

"First of all, you have to be able to play the game at both ends of the ice," said Giroux. "To be able to defend is just as important as being able to put up good numbers. And I want to work on my speed. You look at the game, at the next level, and I think, how can I get quicker, get stronger?"

At the moment, the answers to those questions are somewhat trickier to come by.

"You try and get in as many home workouts as you can get, try and do your best to stay in shape," said Giroux. "I've got my brother by my side, to keep the fire burning."

And to keep busy, as Damien Giroux always has.

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