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Flyers' Claude Giroux left off Canada Olympic hockey team

Claude Giroux's childhood dream to play for Team Canada has turned into a nightmare that won't soon leave him.

Flyers' Claude Giroux left off Canada Olympic hockey team

Flyers captain Claude Giroux. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Flyers captain Claude Giroux. (Matt Slocum/AP)

NEWARK, N.J. - After 5 months of holding his breath, Claude Giroux admitted it would be difficult to sleep last night.

The day he'd been waiting for - his Christmas for a hockey player growing up in Hearst, Ontario - was yesterday. His childhood dream instead turned into a nightmare that won't soon leave him.

The Flyers' captain is not going to Sochi, Russia, to help Team Canada defend its magical gold medal from Vancouver 4 years ago. Giroux, 25, was left off Canada's Olympic roster when it was announced yesterday morning in Toronto.

Giroux was notified by Hockey Canada general manager Steve Yzerman shortly before the Flyers took the ice for their morning skate at Prudential Center.

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"It's tough today," Giroux said, nearly coming to tears. "It's obviously disappointing. It was one of my dreams to be playing for Team Canada. I did the best I could and I didn't make it."

At a sincere loss for words, Giroux said: "It just happens."

Apparently, Giroux' slow start this season - when he posted just seven assists in the Flyers' first 15 games - outweighed the fact that he has carried his team back into a Stanley Cup playoff position.

Hockey Canada's brass reportedly met until 1 a.m. yesterday morning, likely while Giroux was tossing and turning in his New Jersey hotel bed, picking the final roster.

"We spent a lot of time going over it," Yzerman told TSN. "We like all these players. It's about where everybody fits, where everyone is going to play. We deliberated on every issue."

Yzerman was asked specifically by TSN about Giroux, who had 31 points in his last 27 games going into last night. That would be equal to a 97-point pace if played out over a full, 82-game season.

"I don't know if I can give you a good answer," Yzerman said. "I can't criticize any player we didn't put on this team. Some guys got off to really good starts, some guys didn't. We took into account their overall careers, how they played in recent years, how they played internationally."

Giroux helped Canada to a gold medal at the 2008 World Junior Championships. Last May, after a tough season with the Flyers, he posted eight points in eight games at the World Championships in Sweden.

If it's any consolation, Yzerman said Giroux will be a player high on Canada's injury-replacement list. Players still have about a month of the season to get through unscathed. The roster deadline to make changes is Feb. 11, the eve of the first hockey game.

Yzerman said he does not have a specific number of replacement players on a list, but cautioned that Canada "threw out our plan after the first period in Vancouver."

"Claude Giroux is a great player. In the event of injury, he's a guy . . . ," Yzerman said, before catching himself. "These players are all going to be in consideration."

Canada's announcement, once expected to be a joyous day in the Flyers' locker room, turned the mood sour just hours before their game against the Devils.

"Shocking," Brayden Schenn described it.

"I think it sucks," Wayne Simmonds said. "Over the last month and a half, to 2 months, with the exception of our slow start as a team, he's [bleeping] led our team."

"I think everyone was disappointed," Scott Hartnell said. "He deserves to be on that team."

All three of those players are Canadians. All three have represented Canada at one international tournament or another. All three understand just how tough it is, how much scrutiny goes into cracking hockey's toughest roster. With all that in mind, they all thought their teammate should have made it.

"He's turned this team around," Hartnell said. "I think he had a tough start with his [injured] hand, not having a training camp, all that stuff. When he's felt comfortable, look where our team is at. We're in a playoff spot now. He's the top of our team in scoring. He's on the penalty kill, playing in the last minute of the game. He brings everything to our team."

As one of the ultimate daggers for Flyers fans, Jeff Carter was selected in one of the spots Giroux would have needed. Carter, 29, had 12 fewer points than Giroux this season entering play last night. Both players are righthanded - a key sticking point for Canada - yet Carter is a true winger. With an overload of centers, Giroux would have needed to play wing.

Former Flyer Mike Richards, a teammate of Carter's in Los Angeles, was also left off the team after winning gold for Canada in 2010. Just 11 of the 25 players selected are returnees.

"These players are so good," Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, part of the selection committee, told TSN. "You really have to evaluate these players differently when you get to this level. It's about fit."

Aside from Carter, there were a few debatable selections, including Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz - who likely wouldn't put up the numbers he has without the chemistry created with Sidney Crosby. Rick Nash has just 18 points in 27 games for the Rangers this season, and he also plays on the right side. Patrick Marleau and Jamie Benn weren't invited to Canada's Olympic orientation camp in August but played their way onto the team. Giroux was invited but skipped the camp, which didn't send players on-ice, choosing instead to rehab his hand.

"Obviously the names announced, there's a lot of good players there," Giroux said. "There's a reason behind it. I'm disappointed. I'm not upset or mad. I'm [25] years old, I've got a lot of hockey left to play."

Giroux was not alone. Yzerman didn't select Marty St. Louis, his own player on the Tampa Bay Lightning, for the second Olympiad in a row. St. Louis has more points (294) than any NHL player since the 2010 Olympics. Joe Thornton leads the NHL in assists this season. Eric Staal is a consistent player on a poor Carolina team.

The only list anyone wants to focus on - the players who didn't make it - could go on and on. San Jose's Logan Couture, even though he's injured, was told his health had nothing to do with Canada's decision not to take him. Couture's teammate, Dan Boyle, was a 2010 Olympian and left off for Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Chicago's Brent Seabrook won gold in 2010 - and has won two Stanley Cups since then - and he was denied.

"You could make a second Olympic team with the players they left off," Brayden Schenn said, "And they'd still" probably have a chance to fight for a medal.

Flyers coach Craig Berube acknowledged he was surprised, but said Canada's decision "has nothing to do with me."

"It's not easy to pick those teams," Berube said. "He's had a rough start, but obviously turned it around and he's been a real good player for a while now."

There are numerous positives for the Flyers, who will send five other players to Sochi: Kimmo Timonen (Finland), Michael Raffl (Austria), Jake Voracek (Czech Republic), Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia) and Mark Streit (Switzerland).

For one, the Flyers' most important player will get a well-earned 2-week break before the stretch run of the season. And the NHL already has seen what Giroux can do when he's extra motivated - see "The Shift" in the 2012 playoffs, or ask Crosby.

"Claude is the type of guy, I don't think he's going to let it get him down," Simmonds said. "He's just going to prove them wrong, that they should have chosen him. Just watch him from now on, I think he's going to be unbelievable."

Yesterday, his very public wound still minutes fresh, Giroux didn't want to hear about any such positives. Canada's surprise roster cut a talented and proud player profoundly deep.

"I didn't really think of [any positives], to be honest," Giroux said. "In my mind, I wanted to make the team."


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