If the best way to determine player popularity is by the number of jerseys with his name on the back in his home market, well, Gabriel Girard meets all the requirements. His team's website lists his hometown as Varennes, QC, a suburb of Montreal, but he played all five of his QMJHL seasons in Shawinigan with the Cataractes, capped off with a 35-save effort in the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup final game against London on Sunday night.
And if that isn't "going out in style" then who knows what is. Girard, along with Michaël Bournival, had the most jerseys in the concourse with his name on the back and two of three that were immediately available in the team's gift shop, the third being Kirill Kabanov. For the fans that stuck with Girard, he wasn't the team's regular starter during the season, they were able to celebrate something special.
Anton Zlobin scored both goals in the teams' 2-1 overtime victory over the Knights, but when the three stars were announced in the building, Girard's was announced last. With equipment, teammates and reporters flocking the ice, he didn't get the chance to skate around, and the 5,000-plus fans in attendance were too busy cheering and squeaking air horns to pay too much notice, but Girard really did deserve his first star honours that night.
"I cannot ask for a better end to a junior career," Girard said after the game. "Shawinigan is an incredible city. The fans are amazing. I think that's amazing what we're living right now."
The scene on the ice after the game was one of chaos. Reporters, photographers and family milled the ice, and the fans in the stands hadn't left. The Cataractes are the only remaining team from the original QMJHL in 1969 but hadn't won a Memorial Cup prior to Sunday's game. Everybody wanted to talk to Girard, who would later be awarded the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the Outstanding Goaltender of the tournament.
He finished 4-1, with a 2.08 goals against average, but most importantly, a .930 save percentage, with a .972 percentage in the final game.
Headed into the final, no goaltender had really stolen a game for their team. But London, out-played and out-chanced the Cataractes by nearly a 3:2 margin Sunday night. Girard held tight, keeping tight to his net on in-close opportunities, challenging the shooter on rushes and showed exceptional lateral movement, keeping his body square to the shooter on most shots.
Check out this Youtube highlight package of the final game. Several moments are courtesy of Girard: