March 17, 2010

Q&A With Former Bulldog Ray Giroux ’98

FROM YALE CAPTAIN TO RUSSIAN PRO STAR

 

Ray Giroux, former Yale captain and All-American defenseman, has skated in the American Hockey League, National Hockey League and in Russia since leading the Bulldogs to their first ECAC Regular Season Championship in 1997-98. He recently corresponded with Yale Sports Publicity Director Steve Conn while traveling with his Russian professional team.

 

SC

 You have played in Russia the last five winters (Russian League, Kontinental League) since finishing the 2004-05 campaign with the American Hockey League Houston Aeros. What has changed about playing pro hockey in former Soviet Union since you first broke into the league and was part of a championship team in 2005-06?

 

 

RG

 There have been some significant changes in professional hockey in Russia over the last five years.  The biggest change is the switch from the Russian Super League to the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League). The creation of the KHL, combined with Russia's success in the last two world championships, has renewed the Russian populations' interest in hockey and created more excitement for hockey in Russia.

 

SC

 Most of your family is in Ontario, while your wife and son are in Chicago. What are your favorite things about playing in Russia, and are there enough things to keep you there for the rest of your playing days?

 

RG

Megan and Henri were able to live with me for most of the season in St Petersburg.  They came over as soon as Henri was old enough to safely fly over.  They went back to the U.S. for the Olympic break and won't be coming back with me because we get extremely busy come playoff time.  Being apart from family is definitely difficult, but you'd be surprised how many people have come to visit and watch me play since I've been in St Petersburg.  I really enjoy playing in what I would have to say is the second best league in the world, but I'm not sure if I will stay here for the rest of my playing days.  Now that I have a family, I have to do what's best for them. At the end of the year, we'll discuss it and see what happens.

 

SC

 Among the many honors, you were selected by Jaromir Jagr for his 2009 all-star team that played alongside the Kremlin in a beautiful outdoor setting. What was it like on that frigid night and what did you take away from the experience?

 

RG

Playing in the All-Star game in Red Square was definitely a surreal experience.  It was just amazing to play a game with the Kremlin and St Basil's in the background.  I remember skating over to our goalie Robert Esche, who's American, and saying, "Wow can you believe this, a bunch of Canadians, Americans and Europeans beating the Russians in Red Square, in hockey!" We chuckled and appreciated the history of how far things have come since the cold war.  I'll also never forget how cold it was, -18.

 

SC

 You played parts of four seasons with two different NHL teams (13 points in 38 games) since graduating from Yale. Many fans ask me why you are playing over there and not in the NHL. Can you explain, and would you consider an effort to get back to the NHL now that your wife and son are living in the states?

 

RG

I had no intention of abandoning my goal to play in the NHL until the lockout hit and the new collective bargaining agreement was announced.  The CBA was terrible for players who where a little older and on the cusp of playing in the NHL.  They installed a system that ultimately was a sort of cap on individual salaries in the AHL.  I waited until September, and that's when Jeff Hamilton, also in the same boat, and I decided to go over to Russia. I don't think coming back to the NHL is a realistic possibility.  I'm 33 and would be coming back to the NHL as a possible depth defenseman.  That just means that I may or may not make the NHL team and could be sent down.  That's not something I want to do.  I enjoy playing in the KHL. It's a great league and I have much more responsibility on the ice here than I would back in the NHL.

 

SC

 Yale fans remember you as a solid defenseman who could be a catalyst with the puck. As a Bulldog you often carried the puck up ice and finished with 22 career goals and 84 points. You had 73 goals while skating in the AHL and have 39 with 122 points in Russia. What role are you currently playing for St. Petersburg SKA?

 

RG

My role for CKA is a little different this year because we have one of the best offensive defenseman in Russian history, Sergei Zubov.  He's my defensive partner and he's relied on heavily to contribute offensively. Therefore, I have to be a little more responsible defensively.  I've always liked to say that my role is to play well defensively and contribute offensively when I get the chance.

 

SC

 You and Chris Higgins ’05 are Yale’s only ECAC Hockey Players of the Year. As a Bulldog, you were an All-American and Hobey Baker finalist while playing for a Tim Taylor squad that won the school’s first ECAC championship. What are your fondest memories of Yale hockey?

 

RG

I have so many fond memories of Yale. Most of them were related to hockey, but certainly not all of them.  I'm really proud of the fact that in two years we were able to go from one of the worst records in Yale hockey history to the best.  It was a testament to the type of players we had and their commitment to hard work and team chemistry.  A specific moment I remember fondly was clinching the ECAC title and an automatic NCAA Tournament berth at RPI and being able to pour the Gatorade bucket on Coach Taylor.

 

SC

 Aside from all the stats and honors, there might be something else about your Yale days that you are equally proud of if not more. You and your brother, Rich ’95, are the only sibling combination to captain Yale hockey teams. Do you still get a kick out of that and how much do you guys talk about the Bulldogs?

 

RG

Being captains was certainly a thrill for both of us and for our parents. It was great to be a freshman and have your brother be the team captain.  Louis Loucks’ dad took a picture of my brother and I standing together on the blue line for the national anthem that is on all of our bookshelves. We do still talk about Yale hockey and our time there.  We talked recently about the current team, which is having a great year and making the alumni, fans and community very proud.

 

 

SC

 The Giroux brothers are among a small group of donors who made the renovation of Ingalls Rink possible. Rich was in attendance for the Jan. 16 dedication and saw your names on the wall listing the donors and in the Heritage Hall display outside the Schley Room. What was it about your experience that made you want to be part of the renovation campaign?

 

RG

The motivating force behind becoming a donor in the renovation of Ingalls is that I've always thought that Yale hockey enabled me to play professional hockey.  Tim Taylor (former head coach), Todd Rice (former strength coach), C.J. Marottolo (former assistant), Bruce Wolanin (former assistant), and all of my teammates influenced me while at Yale and were crucial in my maturing and growing as a hockey player.  I'm extremely grateful for everything both Yale and Yale Hockey have done for me and my family.

 

Image: Rich and Ray Giroux in 1998 (by Steve Conn)