In the history of professional sports, there have been many famous duos. In baseball, it was Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion, in football, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, and in basketball there was Karl Malone and John Stockton. More recently, in the fabled history of the Hershey Bears franchise, no two names are quite as synonymous as the prolific scoring duo of Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux.
In their two years together in the Chocolate and White, this dynamic duo, along with their able-bodied third linemate, tore up the American Hockey League and resided at the top of the AHL scoring list in both campaigns. Yet, despite all that success, even Giroux is still somewhat mystified about why it all clicked with Aucoin.
“I don’t really know, but it all started from the first game together; we just gelled right from the start,” said Giroux, who along with Aucoin and Mink combined for 13 points in their first game together. “Obviously, he’s a very smart player and finds guys when they get open. That made it very easy for me because all I had to do was find the open spot and he would get the puck to me. Also, you can’t forget Andrew Gordon and Graham Mink’s part in it. They were both hard-working guys who would get Keith the puck, and Keith would get it to me and I was the finisher. It turned out to be a good system.”
Giroux, who went to the Calder Cup Finals with the Bears in his first season with the club in 2006-07 where he lit the lamp 42 times, shattered that mark in the 2008-09 and 2009-2010 seasons by scoring 60 and 50 goals respectively in those seasons, and earned back-to-back Calder Cup titles to boot.
“Those were two amazing years in Hershey, and to win two championships in a row, that’s something exceptional,” he said. “We all saw each other at Keith Aucoin’s wedding a month after we won, and we all talked about how fun it was to be together those years and win the Cup each year, especially winning it at home last year.”
However, like those famous combinations mentioned earlier, each of whom were eventually separated after enjoying success together, Giroux and Aucoin’s last official act together in Chocolatetown was winning the Calder Cup last June at Giant Center, as Giroux opted to leave the Hershey/Washington Capitals fold for the Edmonton Oilers even though he said the Caps did make a bid to retain his services.
“I did get a good offer from them, but I also got a lot of good offers from a lot of other teams, and I was also looking at some offers from Europe,” said Giroux. “I decided to stay over here and try to make it in the NHL. It wasn’t about the money in Washington or Edmonton. I made my decision to sign with Edmonton because I knew they were rebuilding and I was just trying to find a team that had a spot for me in the NHL, and I thought Edmonton was the best fit.”
Despite what Giroux thought was a decent training camp, in which he scored one goal in four exhibition outings, he found himself back in the minors to start the current season, skating for the expansion Oklahoma City Barons.
“They decided to go with the younger guys, but it’s not like the guys they kept didn’t deserve to be there. I was hoping for a better result for myself, and I thought it was one of the best camps that I’ve ever had. I wish the outcome would have been a little better for me, but I don’t regret making that decision. I think it was a good decision to try to make the NHL with another organization. I wish I was in the NHL by now, but that’s how life goes sometimes.”
After spending most of the previous four seasons with either the Bears or the Capitals, whose systems mirror each other, Giroux was forced to not only undergo geographical and systemic changes with the move to the Edmonton organization which employs a different attack and defend scheme, but he also found himself in a new role.
“It’s not so much a difference in systems; it’s just what I was used to in Hershey,” explained Giroux. “Keith and I knew what to do, and the coaches knew what to expect from us. Out here, they split the ice time up a lot more. We’re a younger team and they’re trying to build up the younger players, and the way to do that is give them more ice time. That makes it a little harder to produce as much as I did in Hershey, but it also gives me a chance to play a different role than I did in Hershey.”
Another new role that the Quebec-born Giroux found himself in this season in OKC was that of being a frustrated goal scorer, as he endured a 14-game span during which he was unable to net even a single goal, which doubled his longest dry spell with the Bears in the previous two seasons.
“Nothing close to that has happened to me in a long, long time, and it was tough; it was for sure the toughest part of my career,” said Giroux, who managed 10 helpers during the 14 games, and recently became only the 44th player in the 75 year history of the AHL to reach the 600-point milestone. “I tried to stay positive because in a lot of those games I had some good chances, but couldn’t get any goals.”
Giroux, who was never one to make excuses during his Hershey tenures and always made himself available to the media after a game, whether it be an exciting victory or a disappointing defeat, shoulders the blame for his 14 games of futility, despite the fact that the Barons do not have an setup man of Aucoin’s ilk to set the table for him.
“Here, I get a little less ice time than I did in Hershey. In Hershey, Keith and I played a lot of minutes and that obviously helps your goal totals. Here, I don’t get as many good chances, and when I get those chances I have to put those in. In Hershey, it seemed that Keith put the puck on my stick for one or two shots a game where I had a pretty easy shot to score, so I could have a bad game and still get a goal at the end of the night. Obviously, during that streak, I wasn’t scoring goals, but fortunately, I busted out of it and I’m looking to stay on track for the rest of the season.”
For Giroux, one of the benefits of playing for the Barons is that he gets to fly to a good portion of their road games, for the most part escaping the usual mode of transportation in the AHL, the “iron lung” or bus. However, if during some down time in the terminal or on the tarmac, Giroux gets a sudden urge to talk Hershey Bears hockey, he won’t have to look very far as the Barons’ bench boss, Todd Nelson, as well as his assistant coach, Rocky Thompson, are both former Bears.
“Rocky’s a really good assistant coach. He played in this league a long time and he knows what it takes to be successful. We travel a lot by plane, so we have a lot of time to talk about old stories about the old barn in Hershey,” said Giroux. “I actually played against Rocky when he played for the Bears when I first broke into the AHL.”
Although the Barons and Bears are not slated to face each other this season, Giroux will be returning to Hershey in February as the captain of the Western Conference all-stars after recently being bestowed with that honor by the league’s president and CEO, Dave Andrews. Giroux’s all-star appearance will mark the third straight season he has been named to the affair, and his fourth overall appearance in the classic.
“It’s awesome,” said Giroux when asked about the honor. “I knew the game was in Hershey, but that was something I really didn’t expect. I guess you can look at it two ways: I’m old and in this league and not the NHL, or at the same time, you look at it as quite an honor to be named the captain of the all-star team, and especially since I’m going back to Hershey for that honor with all of the success I’ve had there. It’s going to be a fun time.”
No one knows what the future holds for Giroux. Will he get an eventual call up to Edmonton and find a steady place in the NHL? Will he spend the rest of the season in OKC with the Barons? Or, will he be acquired by Bears President/GM, Doug Yingst and the Capitals in an in-season deal, repeating a similar scenario from the 2007-08 season? While all of those scenarios are possible, and Giroux would certainly prefer the NHL to the other possibilities, he wouldn’t mind an eventual return to the scene of his greatest triumphs.
“You never say never in this business. The last two years have been my best years in hockey, and I have a lot of good friends in Hershey. Everyone treated me really well there, and it was a great fit for me. If the chance ever arises for me to go back, without hesitation I would.”