'Jiggy' ready to play

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

Jean-Sebastien Giguere arrived for his first practice yesterday as a Toronto Maple Leaf with an old Anaheim goalie mask and a new lease on life as a starting goalie.

Question is, did he just go from being an Anaheim Duck to a sitting duck?

Being the No. 1 goalie for the Leafs is a bit like being the target in a midway shooting gallery.

In this decade, Andrew Raycroft, Justin Pogge and Vesa Toskala all found the job to be an ego-deflating career-killer. Trevor Kidd, Corey Schwab and Mikael Tellqvist left no more discernible imprints than ghosts walking over a lakeshore.

But Giguere, who went from a Conn Smythe winner and Stanley Cup champion in Anaheim to being a backup behind Jonas Hiller, sees the job to be his -- and by extension, the Leafs' -- salvation.

While Giguere is known best for his Conn Smythe heroics in the 2003 playoffs and back-stopping the Ducks to a Stanley Cup in 2006-07, he also was there when Anaheim was every team's whipping boy. He, and Toronto coach Ron Wilson, are hoping that history repeats itself.

Like Giguere and those Ducks, they see the Leafs rising from the ashes.

"He's been in the situation before where he's joined a team that wasn't very good and grew with the team. We're hoping he can do the same here," Wilson said yesterday. "We have to get a lot better around him but he's been through that experience. We're near the bottom of the league and Anaheim finished last in the conference and he knows how rapidly you can improve if you go about it the right way."

Giguere had been with Anaheim since 2000, he owned a home there and his kids -- one of whom was diagnosed with a serious eye ailment -- were born there. But, he knew his time there was done, professionally.

"A lot of things happened and that's why I'm standing in front of you today. We had Hiller, who's not too shabby. There were a lot of things that happened in my personal (son Max's ailment) and professional life and there was a lot of pressure and Jonas found a way to step up his game and push me aside. Kudos to him. On top of that, I didn't play well when I did play."

In 20 games he had a 3.14 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. That's marginally better than Toskala. But he has a more proven track record than Toskala and helped tutor Hiller and, before him, Ilya Bryzgalov.

Wilson sees Giguere, still just 32 years old after 12 NHL seasons, filling a similar role, helping Jonas Gustavsson.

"Jiggy is three days older than Vesa, yet there's this perception that he's 37 years old and at the end of his career and Vesa is still an up-and-coming goalie," Wilson said. "We think Jiggy has a lot of years left and hopefully he and Jonas can have a chemistry like he's had with all the goalies in Anaheim and help develop Jonas into a bona fide No. 1 goalie."

Giguere waived his no-trade clause to come to Toronto for two reasons: Burke, and because it reunites him with goalie coach Francois Allaire. The three have a mutual admiration society.

Burke yesterday called Giguere the hardest-working goalie he's ever seen.

"This guy is a role model for any young goalie," Burke said. "In our mind, his game hasn't deteriorated and if it has we have the magic elixir to get it back and his name is Francois."

Giguere waffled on the mentor tag, but not the reality of his situation. "My job is not to coach Jonas. He already has a coach ... so I'm going to try to lead by example ... be a good teammate to him. We're not going to compete against each other and we're going to be friends. (The Leafs) need Jonas to develop and Burke wants him to be his goalie of the future."

As for the present, all they want is a touch of vintage Giguere.

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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