‘Hart Off The Ice’
By Sean Hartnett
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Dan Girardi isn’t the most recognizable face on the New York Rangers. He isn’t even the most celebrated Girardi in New York as Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi takes that distinction.
Girardi will never be Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey or Nicklas Lidstrom. He isn’t the kind of player who attempts to redefine how defense is played in the National Hockey League. All of that is irrelevant to Rangers fans who appreciate what he brings to the table every night and the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department who selected Girardi to his first career All-Star team.
“I would describe myself as pretty much a ‘stay at home defenseman.’ I do get some points here and there, but I like to make a good first pass out of the zone and play good defensively. My main goal is to keep the puck out of the net and if points come, that’s great,” Girardi stated in a 2009 MSG Network profile video.
That pretty much sums up Girardi’s approach. He’s never flashy on the ice but always effective. His consistency, toughness and team-first characteristics are finally being recognized nationally as Girardi will be traveling to the 2012 NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa.
“I never really expected it, coming from where I came from to be nominated for an All-Star here and be able to represent the team. I’m just really excited about it and just happy to get to Ottawa and see what they have in store for me there. It’s been a good first half of the year for the team and myself. Everything is going great right now. We just want to keep it going,” he told Rangers’ play-by-play broadcaster Sam Rosen before Thursday’s game against the Ottawa Senators.
After a November 11th victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, a reporter asked Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella to describe his feelings about Girardi being left off the 2012 All-Star fan ballot.
Tortorella responded, “It’s because he’s not pedigree. There’s no pedigree there. Our league is so a– backwards when it comes to that.”
He continued his rant, “It’s not just this year that he’s underrated. This guy’s has been a really good player, but if you don’t have the pedigree in this league, they don’t look at you.”
Nearly every reporter in the room (including myself) chuckled when Tortorella unexpectedly used the term ‘a– backwards’ but he was completely right. His choice of words hammered home an injustice when it came to All-Star selections.
‘Skill players’ are usually rewarded over more all-around ‘team players’ like Girardi. As an undrafted free agent, Girardi had to prove himself in the ECHL before making the jump to the AHL and eventually the NHL. He’s never had the benefit ‘hype machine’ backing but now he’s finally getting his due.
Thankfully, the league is getting it right by selecting more less-heralded but integral role players in recent years. Stephane Robidas was named an All-Star in 2009 for being a steady defenseman throughout his career and for only missing a single shift after breaking his jaw that season. Yanic Perreault was picked as an All-Star in 2007 for leading the NHL in face-off percentage in seven consecutive seasons. It’s a trend that I hope will continue.
Girardi is first in the entire NHL with an average of 27:16 minutes played per game and his total of 104 blocked shots ranks fourth-best league-wide. Still, statistics do not paint the entire picture when it comes to his importance to the Blueshirts.
If you spoke to every single teammate of Girardi, they’d probably use words such as ‘indispensable’ and ‘essential’ to describe his value to the Rangers. Girardi was the glue that held the Rangers’ blueline together while Marc Staal recovered from post-concussion syndrome and the team suffered through a number of injuries.
Tortorella, for one was pleased to see Girardi’s name listed on the All-Star roster. “He deserves it… it’s something that came out right,” he told the Rangers’ official website on Thursday.
Girardi could have been selected as an All-Star in a number of recent seasons and I’m sure Rangers fans are delighted that he finally got the nod in 2012.
Rangers fans, is Girardi an overdue All-Star? Were any other Blueshirts snubbed this year? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.