When Claude Giroux was drafted by the Flyers back in 2006, former GM Bobby Clarke forgot his name.
Six years later, Giroux is the unforgettable face of the Philadelphia franchise, and if you want any proof of the kid’s popularity, all you have to do is look at the EA Sports “NHL 13” cover vote.
After 26 million fan votes had been calculated, the Flyers superstar defeated Pekka Rinne to earn the rights to the “NHL 13” photo shoot (and pay check), despite Rinne getting a shout out of support from Mr. Tiger Blood himself, Charlie Sheen.
“When you’re a kid, you dream of playing in the NHL, winning the Stanley Cup, and being on the cover of the NHL video game, but you never really think it’s possible,” Giroux tells me over the phone from the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. “When you’re a kid, you play this game and you’re excited every year for the game to come out and see who is on the cover. This year, we’ve seen there are Flyers fans all across the world and they’ve all seemed to come out and vote, and we’re pretty lucky for that.”
As for the draft night flub, Giroux still has a good laugh about what happened.
“Every time I see Bobby Clarke in the hallway, I introduce myself. I’m like, ‘Hi, I’m Claude Giroux,’ and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I remember your name now,'” Giroux says with a laugh. “It’s all a good joke.”
Here’s what else Giroux had to say, along with cover vote runner-up Rinne, as we had the chance to talk video games before the awards show kicked off.
ESPN Playbook: Were you guys both big fans of the “NHL” video games growing up?
Pekka Rinne: Absolutely, I was a huge fan. I’d always play in tournaments with my buddies and every year, it was a big thing to wait for the new game and see what new features they added. Same thing still. I don’t get the chance to play that much anymore, but when I do, it’s still fun to play.
Claude Giroux: Every year I play the game, and when you’re a kid, you always want to take control of your favorite player. To me, Steve Yzerman was that guy. All I wanted to do was to be able to play like him. Anytime you can play as your idol, that’s pretty cool.
What do you guys think of your characters in the game? Does EA Sports do you justice?
Claude Giroux: It’s funny because four years ago, my guy was probably the worst player in the game. He was small, he couldn’t shoot, couldn’t skate, and it was actually pretty embarrassing. Anytime someone would touch him, he would fall. [laughs] Rinne was the third goalie back then, so if he wanted to play as himself, he had to go in and create his character.
Pekka Rinne: It’s true, I used to create myself, but I’d still lose every game.
What about this year, by being the two finalists for the cover, is it in your contracts to be 99 overall?
Claude Giroux: 99? I want to be 100!
They added goalie fights in the game last year. Pekka, is that something that you wanted to try?
Pekka Rinne: I think it’s awesome. All that stuff just makes the game more exciting. I haven’t gotten in too many fights, but you have to be ready for it.
A lot of athletes bring video game systems on the road with them when they travel. Do you guys ever get the chance to play against your teammates?
Claude Giroux: My roommate this year was Brayden Schenn, and he came in and he brought his game, and he got really cocky about it because he was just killing me like 8-0. I kept losing, so we just stopped playing after a while. My confidence was done.
EA Sports added a new hockey IQ to the game this year so that players on ice play more like their real-life counterparts. From what you’ve had the chance to see of “NHL 13,” how much more realistic does the game play than last year’s version?
Pekka Rinne: I think it’s so much more realistic. We had the chance to play the game today, and we got the chance to see all of the new changes, and what they’ve done is pretty unbelievable. The new skating system really adds a lot to the game. Now with momentum, the faster you’re going, the harder it is to make those sharp turns. It’s so much more realistic this year. I think they’re getting pretty close to what you see in real life.
Claude Giroux: The little details that they put in there this year, when you compare “NHL 12” and “NHL 13,” I think fans will notice a huge difference. To me, this has the chance to be the best “NHL” video game they’ve ever made.
Any advice on how to play as your characters in the new game?
Pekka Rinne: Close your eyes and push the buttons. [laughs]
Claude Giroux: Aim low when you shoot.
Pekka Rinne: But whatever you do, don’t shoot at my glove side.