RALEIGH, N.C. - Sitting deep in his stall inside the Hurricanes' locker room, looking relaxed with his legs crossed, Claude Giroux was smiling.
Two stalls over, members of the Canadian media were gobbling up temporary teammates Alex Ovechkin and Daniel Sedin. A throng of television cameras were clamoring for star of the weekend, Eric Staal.
Looking around at the different last names etched above the lockers, Giroux said he needed to pinch himself a little bit.
Two years ago, the humble Hearst, Ontario, native never imagined he would be at the All-Star Game - not this fast, not this soon. Yesterday, Giroux did something some of his locker room's biggest names - like Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Corey Perry - couldn't do: score in the All-Star Game.
"I was just glad I didn't embarrass myself out there," Giroux said with a laugh. "I never thought I'd be able to be here. Just to be picked, it's a great honor. The best players in the world are here, I feel pretty lucky."
No, luck is being Ottawa's Erik Karlsson, since someone from his team had to be represented in yesterday's 58th NHL All-Star Game at the RBC Center. Giroux made his own luck.
"There's no question he belonged," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, who coached against Giroux yesterday. "He's had an All-Star year and he is an All-Star player. Certainly his performance this year, he's warranted it."
The way Giroux has consistently produced for the Flyers since last year's playoff run - already matching his point total (47) in the first 50 games that he put up over 82 games last regular season - it's sometimes hard to remember that Giroux is still just 23.
Yesterday, Giroux wasn't star gazing. Yes, he watched defenseman and Canadian Olympian Shea Weber post four assists and garner a plus-6 rating in the worst defensive game of the season, and he skated on a line with game MVP Patrick Sharp, but Giroux didn't shy away.
He contributed. Giroux also picked up an assist and went 7-for-14 in the faceoff circle against the best centermen in the game, in front of his family who made the trip to North Carolina from Ottawa.
"We all saw it out there [yesterday]," Danny Briere said. "He was confident, he made some plays just like any of the top players were making. I hope it makes him realize that he belongs among the best players in the NHL."
Out of the 42 players in yesterday's game, only six players are younger than Giroux, and none of them spent a single day in the AHL on their way to the NHL. Giroux is one of the 85 percent of NHL players who spent time honing his craft in the AHL.
It has been a process, one that he readily admits is still a work in progress. Consider this past weekend - an unbelievably well-hosted event in an untraditional market in Raleigh - a big part of that learning curve.
"I'm still a young guy, I'm still learning every day," Giroux said. "When you come to an event like this, I think you can learn a lot. It's a great experience.
"It was a great show. It's special when you see a guy like [Zdeno] Chara shoot that hard, or a guy like Ovechkin dangle the puck. It's impressive. These are the best players in the world."
Now, as Giroux officially enters the second half of the season tomorrow night as the Flyers' leading point-getter, the challenge will be for him to continue his playmaking dominance at a consistent pace.
Giroux will do so, though, knowing that his dream in Raleigh was very much a reality. He has the jersey he asked his teammates to sign to prove it.
"Hopefully he uses this weekend to his advantage," Briere said, "And he realizes that he's already one of the best players in the NHL."
Patrick Sharp, traded by the Flyers with Eric Meloche to Chicago on Dec. 5, 2005, for Matt Ellison and a third-round pick, won a Honda Crosstour EX-L as the game's MVP . . . Goalie Tim Thomas got the victory in net, setting an NHL record as the victor in three consecutive All-Star games. It's especially impressive considering there was no game in 2010 because of the Vancouver Olympics . . . Team captain Nicklas Lidstrom tied a record with a plus-7 rating . . . Matt Duchene was stoned in the first penalty shot in All-Star history . . . Team Lidstrom, with its 11-10 win, staged the biggest comeback in the game's history by erasing a four-goal first-period deficit. *
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