The newest member of the Rampage family comes with a good hockey map.
Center Felix Girard joined the Rampage this past weekend after the Colorado Avalanche acquired the 5-11 pivot from the Nashville Predators for NHL winger Cody McLeod. In his third-professional season with the Milwaukee Admirals, Girard registered three goals and five assists in 35 contests before making his way to the Alamo City.
“I was very surprised (about the deal). I wasn’t expecting a trade at all,” said the Quebec native. “I’m happy to come here and help the guys and play for Eric once again.”
Girard helped the Baie-Comeau Drakkar junior team to the successive Quebec Major Junior League finals under Veilleux’s direction and was pleased to be playing for the Rampage first year coach again.
“We had a great bunch of guys back then,” recalled Girard of his junior days. “We really came together as a team. My first two years we were one of the worst teams in the league. When Eric came in it was almost the same group we had when we were not winning games so we really came together and decided we wanted to be a good team and make something out of our junior careers.”
The Drakkar’s success led to Girard’s name being called on draft day 2013 in the fourth round by Nashville. Although he went to the draft proceedings with a friend and his dad, he was surprised when the Predators called his name because of what happened the year before.
“The year before I went to the draft in Pittsburgh as a 17-year old. I went there with all my family and ended up not being drafted. So I was a little disappointed. Wasn’t expecting much the next year and it turned out to be a good day,” he said with a huge grin. “The Predators have been a great organization for me to start my career and I’m very grateful they picked me up that day.”
Girard’s road to pro hockey began in his hometown of Quebec, where his dad and mom would construct a skating rink in his yard every winter that allowed him and his friends a place to skate and play the game at a young age.
“I think that where it all started. The whole neighborhood would gather and just play hockey and skate around. It was nice, actually. It had lights to play at night and nets. It was pretty big. We had boards we would put up before the snow came, so when it started snowing the snow would stay outside the walls. It was a good set up.”
By his third junior year, Girard had his hockey career clicking, scoring a career high 23 goals and 61 points with new coach Veilleux on the bench. Girard added 15 points in 19 playoff games against Halifax, which lost only SIX regular season games and ONE post-season contest…against Baie-Comeau. The Mooseheads went on to win the Memorial Cup behind current Avalanche leading scorer, Nathan McKinnon, who had 13 points in four games in the Memorial Cup tournament, and the 3rd overall pick that year, Jonathan Drouin, now with Tampa Bay. Former Rampage defenseman Mackenzie Weegar also played for Halifax.
Playing in Milwaukee gave Girard a quick lesson in pro hockey prowess. The Admirals have missed the AHL or IHL playoffs only THREE times in the last 39 years. How is that possible?
“I think they have a winning culture over there. Younger guys are coming in and older guys are having success. They get a lot of guys called up from Milwaukee to Nashville and you look at them and you want to be there and you want to play like them. My first year, I think there are five guys that are steady in the NHL right now. The wheels are just rolling for them right now.”
Now, Girard has to make sure he comes to the home entrance of the AT&T Center ice after helping the Admirals to a 3-0 record against the Rampage this season, including an assist on the game-winner here in the second game of the season. Last year, Girard scored one of his five goals on the season against the Rampage.
“It’s weird at first (now dressing for one of his opponents). Hockey is a small world. Guys are moving around all the time. You get new guys on the team all the time so I guess the guys are used to that. It’s been a quick adjustment and right now I feel part of the group in just two games. I feel pretty good.”
Girard is hoping he’s brought a chunk of that winning tradition to San Antonio, and help the Rampage find their winning ways toward the playoffs on this long homestand.
Bonus question: You'll never guess who was Girard's boyhood hero growing up? His well-known years were in Pittsburgh, but this mystery boyhood hero also played for the Avalanche, Bruins, and Flyers, and is currently playing in Russia for Lokomotiv, the team coached a few years ago by former Rampage head coach Tom Rowe. Answer below.
In Case You Missed It
In his first game after the trade, former Avalanche forward Cody McLeod scored for the Nashville Predators against his old team – Colorado…he also fought former teammate Jerome Iginla…former Rampage captain, Jeff Hoggan, paid a visit this weekend with his Iowa Wild teammates, scoring a goal against his former team…Hoggan was the leader of two Rampage teams that didn’t win a game in November, but “we turned that around both seasons, almost coming back to make the playoffs, you know. We never quit. All in all, it was a great experience. My son Hunter was born here. He’s a Texan. It was one of those stops, two years, except for not making the playoffs, I’m grateful for all my time in San Antonio.” Hoggan, twice a Calder Cup winner, first with Houston and then with Grand Rapids where he played four seasons after his Rampage years and he also played in Germany. “It’s not too often you get a chance to go overseas, take the family. We got to the finals my first year. We got into the culture, soaking in the Christmas markets.” The former Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues forward certainly made his mark here, scoring 35-33-68 in 130 games while wearing the “C” for the Rampage.
Bill Thomas scored with under 10-minutes left at Toyota Center and Bracken Kearns won it 1:36 into overtime as the Rampage came back to beat the Houston Aeros, 3-2 on January 20, 2012. Jon Matsumoto and team captain Nolan Yonkman assisted on Kearns’ game-winner over Matt Hackett, while Dov Grumet-Morris stopped 20 of 22 Aeros shots. Kearns is having another solid year in Bridgeport with the Islanders AHL team with 13-15-28 after scoring 53 points with the Sound Tigers last season. Kearns also picked up an assist in two games in New York. Kearns had 42 goals in two seasons in San Antonio…Matsumoto is in Munich this season. He was just picked up in a deal with Tampa Bay in 2012 and helped lead the Rampage to the post-season, where his pass to defenseman Roman Derlyuk sealed San Antonio’s lone playoff series win, a double overtime victory in Chicago against the Wolves in Game 5 of the series…Yonkman, who forged serious bonds with cancer victims here in the Alamo City, is playing in Sweden for the second year in a row. After leaving the Rampage, Yonkman played in Norfolk and Adirondack, with a couple of games with the Anaheim Ducks, where he picked up an assist. The former Washington Capitals draft pick had 97 minutes with HT Jyvaskyla last season, showing he still has some punch left…Thomas, the franchise’s second-leading scorer in two stints with San Antonio, has spent the last four years in Europe…this season, he’s with Salzburg in the Austrian League, where he has 35 points in 44 games. Thomas is second all-time to Brett MacLean on the Rampage scoring list with 64-73-137 in 187 games.
It’s the Moose coming to town this weekend, along with the Rockford IceHogs. Three games in two-and-a-half days! Don’t miss out on Rampage hockey! Friday, 7:30. Saturday, 7. Sunday, 3. See you at the rink!
Answer: Max Talbot who has 29 points in 51 games with Lokomotiv. "I liked the way he played, what he brought to the table. Every team he went to he wasn't the most skilled guy but he always found a way to make himself useful to the team."