OTTAWA - With snowflakes falling outside a quaint pizza bar in the downtown ByWard Market, just steps from Parliament Hill, a giddy waiter ran to the cash register on Saturday, carefully cradling a gold credit card.
"Do you know who this is?!" the excited waiter said to his bartender, pointing to the embossed name on the card.
"Claude Giroux?" replied the bartender, more hipster than hockey fan. "Who is that?"
Just a few months ago, in the city where he spends his summers training, Giroux would have been able to remain nestled anonymously in the back of one of his favorite restaurants unbothered. He would have been able to eat with his father, Raymond, and sister, Isabelle, her fiancee and a few friends without the whispers, the autograph requests and the camera phones.
Not on Saturday. Not more than a few city blocks from the All-Star Game's Fan Fair. And certainly not with the season - and Hart Trophy chatter - that Giroux has created for himself.
Just last week, ESPN's John Buccigross put Giroux fifth on his list of Top 100 NHL players. On Thursday night, he was selected eighth overall out of 38 players in the Fantasy Draft by captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Even with the near-constant demands on his time, Giroux wouldn't have it any other way. In the NHL, where the spotlight is as fleeting as a 108.8 mph Zdeno Chara slap shot, it's better to be burdened than bored.
That's what made part of his weekend so enjoyable, surrounded by family and close friends, as he collected a goal in his second career All-Star Game appearance at Scotiabank Place last night.
"I'm sure he was a little busy all weekend," linemate Scott Hartnell said. "It's a lot of family time. A lot of things going on, with signing autographs or media requests. But he was pretty fired up all weekend."
For Giroux, and every player involved in the weekend, the game was less X's-and-O's and a chance to work on his skills. It was an experience - and one that was wildly different than his coming-out All-Star Game last year in Raleigh, N.C.
"This was my second time being here," Giroux said. "It was an exciting game. You saw how excited the city was that the All-Star Game was hosted here. It's a great city to have an All-Star Game. It was pretty special to be here in Ottawa, I had a lot of family and friends here watching the game."
Last night, Giroux started the game on a line with Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos and San Jose's Logan Couture. He was soon back on a line with a familiar face in Hartnell, who fed him for a game-tying goal with 10 minutes, 20 seconds to play in the third period. Team Chara went on to beat Team Alfredsson, 12-9, in front of a capacity crowd in Canada's capital.
Giroux, 24, had scored just once in his last 15 games with the Flyers after starting the season with 17 goals in his first 29 games.
"He really wanted to score a goal, so I'm glad I was able to steal the puck from [goalie Tim Thomas] and get it to him," Hartnell said. "I think he was pretty relieved, too."
Starting tomorrow night against visiting Winnipeg, Giroux will get a fresh start on a second-half push that will see the Flyers play 34 games in 68 days leading up to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Over the next 2 months, there will be answers to fascinating questions, like whether Giroux - the odds-on first-half favorite for the NHL's MVP award - can hang on to win the Flyers' first Hart since Eric Lindros earned it in 1995. Or, whether Ilya Bryzgalov can lead the Flyers deep into the playoffs.
This weekend, Giroux was soaking it all in - trying to figure out where he fits in after a gradual rise over the last 4 years.
"You get a chance to see the best players in the world do their thing," Giroux said. "It's impressive. They're obviously the best at what they do, so it's interesting to see how they react off the ice."
Always humble, Giroux says that as if he is an outsider looking in at the elite. Without Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in Ottawa, he just didn't realize that everyone was looking at him through that snowglobed pizza-bar window.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper attended the game in Canada's capital. He sat near NHL commissioner Gary Bettman . . . The Rangers' Marian Gaborik collected the MVP award with three goals and an assist. Gaborik edged hometown hero Daniel Alfredsson, who had two goals and an assist in a losing effort. Two of Gaborik's goals came against regular teammate Henrik Lundqvist in the first period. Gaborik is the first Rangers player to win the award since Wayne Gretzky in 1999 . . . There were a combined 94 shots on goal and the 21 goals scored tied last year's total . . . Bruins goalie Tim Thomas won his fourth straight All-Star Game, playing the third period for Team Chara . . . Next year's contest will be held in Columbus on Jan. 27.