When you walk around the concourses, press box and passage ways around Honda Center in Anaheim, it's hard not to come across framed photographs of the most important goaltender in Ducks history, 34-year-old Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
Near the broadcasting area of the press box, there's a photo of him stone-faced, accepting the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP shortly after Anaheim had lost Game 7 of the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals to New Jersey.
Depicting more jubilant times, there are a good number of pictures of Giguere holding the Stanley Cup above his head, celebrating the Ducks' 2007 Stanley Cup triumph over Ottawa.
On Saturday night, the mutual love between the fans, the organization and Giguere was flowing as he returned to Anaheim for the first time since being traded to Toronto on January 31, 2010 for Jason Blake and Vesa Toskala. Now in his first year with the Colorado Avalanche, Giguere continued his strong play by stopping 18 of 20 shots in leading the Avs to a 4-2 road victory.
During the game's first TV timeout, while fans offered an ovation and players on both teams tapped their sticks on the ice, the Ducks showed a videoboard montage depicting many high points of the nine seasons he played in Orange County. Giguere raised his stick in appreciation before heading back to the crease.
"It was a nice montage, very well done. Classy," Giguere said. "Not every team does that to their players. I always really respected the organization here. I think the Samuelis are world class people, very good for the community, very good for the players. You'd be crazy not to like playing here. It's a great city and a great organization. I'm happy where I'm at right now, but I do miss it here."
Speaking of classy, his former teammate and future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne spent a few minutes earlier in the week speaking on the impact Giguere had on the Anaheim locker room and the entire franchise.
"What he did for this organization is remarkable. It's unbelievable," Selanne said.
"He was rock solid every year."
Selanne also shared a laugh on the super-sized pads goaltenders used early last decade when the then-Mighty Ducks made an improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003.
"I remember that was probably the worst time when the goalies with the big equipment. I remember, like you couldn't even see his neck, you know. He was like that. He reminded me of the Michelin guy, the tire guy," Selanne said.
"But you know what? The way how he played, when you run into a hot goalie, anything can happen. And he was the reason why he won the Conn Smythe."
When asked about his favorite highlights in his time in Anaheim, Giguere fondly recalled winning the 2007 Cup while paying particular homage to the Cinderella run four years prior.
"I mean, in 2003, if you looked at our team, I don't think anybody would have bet on us to go all the way to the finals," Giguere said. "We managed to have an amazing year, being well coached and working hard and everybody buying into a system, everybody sacrificing themselves. That's the purest example of how a hockey team should approach the season. It was just amazing to be able to go through that ride in 2003."
The foundation for Giguere's success began well before the two runs to the Finals and after he had opportunities with Hartford, which had drafted him 13th overall in 1995, and Calgary. Looking for a spark in his career after an off-season trade to Anaheim prior to the 2000-01 season, he found it quickly in his first season with his new organization.
"For me, it was working with Francois Allaire there, the goalie coach," Giguere said. "When I was in Calgary I was in the Calgary organization for three years and by the end of my third year there, I think I lost my last 17 games in the minors or something like that. My career wasn't going anywhere. Pierre Gauthier at the time took a bit of gamble on me. He needed a little bit of future relief for Guy Hebert. Right away, as soon as I got traded that week, I met with Francois there in Montreal and we started working together already in the summer. Right away, I felt more confident, I started real strong that year in the minors. I think I won my first five or six games with Cincinnati at the time, and from then on never looked back. They called me up in December. I think the team was struggling up there, so they wanted to start with young guys, and I got a good chance there to play. I think with the help of a good goalie coach and an organization that believed in me, I think it really helped me becoming a good goalie in this league."
34 years old and in his first year of a two-year contract signed with Colorado over the off-season, Giguere is happy with his current playing arrangement, competing for playing time with the Avalanche's number one goaltender, Semyon Varlamov.
"That's how you make yourself better," Giguere said of his near-platoon situation. "A young guy pushes me because I've got to keep up with him, too, everyday. If I want to play in this league, I've got to keep up with the 22, 23 year olds. That's just the way it is now. At the same time, I can show him some tricks of the trade. I can be a good teammate to him, something I'm very comfortable with. I've done it with Jonas Hiller. I've done it with James Reimer in Toronto. It's something that I don't have a problem with."
After Saturday's game, Giguere's numbers improved to a 9-5 record with a 1.96 goals against average and .927 save percentage. While the success has buoyed a Colorado team looking for consistency in net, there had been plenty of self-reflection and even some doubt creeping in as he began moving past the prime age of NHL players.
"You probably could put me on the list of people who have questioned. Sometimes you just don't know. You get older, and you start questioning yourself, too."
"I'm just happy. I had a great summer of preparation, which was the key to this season. My body feels like it hasn't felt in years, and I still have the desire to win and still have the desire to play. Obviously being a backup right now gives me the chance to be rested when I play and take care of my body and stuff like that. I'm pretty happy with the way things are going so far this year."
Because he was traded while Anaheim was in Tampa Bay during a mid-season roadtrip a night after the rookie party, as Selanne recalled he was only really able to say good bye to his teammates, coaches and traveling staff at the time. In pads and ready to step onto the ice for practice when he received the news he was heading to Toronto, the entire team quickly gathered around him for some final hugs and well-wishing during his final moments spent in Ducks gear.
On Saturday, Giguere was finally able to return and salute the fans whose fervent passion was catalyzed by the terrific minutes he provided in net, leading to the only Stanley Cup won by a California team.
"I was pretty touched," Giguere said of the fans' response and ovation. "I wasn't necessarily expecting a bad reaction. I'm glad that people reacted that way. Obviously I consider this place my second home. My kids are born here, so it means a lot to me when I come back here. I've always had a lot of respect for Ducks fans. They've always been amazing to me. I never really got a chance to say thanks to them, so thank you, guys!"