New York Rangers defensemen Ryan McDonagh, Dan Boyle and Matt Hunwick spoke exclusively to XN Sports writer Sean Hartnett about alternate captain Dan Girardi’s remarkable durability, steadiness and professionalism.
For nine seasons, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi has been a model of consistency, reliability and toughness. Few NHL players are able to play the aggressive style that Girardi embraces and are able to continue suiting up 80, 81, 82-game seasons and deep playoff runs.
Girardi reached the 600-game plateau in Sunday’s 1-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. He is only the ninth defenseman in Rangers’ history to reach 600 games. Girardi gives full heart and soul to the Rangers’ cause. He never dials it back a notch. Girardi throws his body into physical battles, blocks shots with reckless abandon and is on the receiving end of a constant parade of high sticks and elbows.
Somehow, Girardi finds a way to keep answering the bell. Like the old Timex ads used to say, Girardi is just like a dependable watch ‘takes a licking and keeps on ticking.’
“It’s impressive,” Boyle said. “Certain guys for whatever reason have an ability to stay in the lineup and play through injuries and pain. That hit he took in Pittsburgh, 90 percent of this locker room would have been out for a while. He comes right back. 600 games – it’s a credit to him and his ability to withstand the punishment of the everyday NHL life.”
The hit Boyle was referring to was Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin’s freight-train hit on Girardi on Nov. 15. Girardi was attended to by trainer Jim Ramsay in the Rangers’ dressing room. He ended up returning in overtime.
Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh remembers studying Girardi’s habits closely when he entered the league as a 21-year-old rookie January 2011.
“He’s a great example for any young defenseman out there,” McDonagh said, “Especially being undrafted, you could see that the chances were very much against him. He continues to come to the rink with the right attitude every day to prove people wrong and prove to himself that he’s the complete player that he is.”
McDonagh praised Girardi for his team-first attitude and desire to continue proving doubters wrong long after he had to work his way into the NHL after going undrafted at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
“He takes care of his body, he plays through a lot of injuries and pain,” McDonagh said. “For him to get to 600 and for us to be part of it, it was pretty cool to see. He has a great attitude. That’s the best part about him. He’s always carrying about his teammates and trying to prepare himself best for the team.”
Since signing for the Rangers this past offseason, Hunwick has become close to Girardi. Hunwick lives nearby Girardi in Westchester, N.Y. The pair carpools to practices and games.
“I live out near him now,” Hunwick said. “I commute with him to practices and games. I’ve gotten a chance to know him fairly well over the last month or so. He’s a great guy and obviously, a very good team-first guy. Dan’s a real important piece to our team. He has the pulse of the locker room. We’re very fortunate to have him.”
Hunwick is impressed by Girardi’s ability to think ahead of the play and his ability to perform under pressure.
“I just think he’s a really smart player,” Hunwick said. “It seems like he always knows where the play is going and what to do with the puck before he even gets it. That’s why he’s able to make such good plays. Even under pressure, he already knows where he wants to go with the puck. He’s able to make those plays on breakouts. It’s something that you notice more when you skate with him every day and play him every game.
“His style of play is definitely an aggressive style. He blocks a lot of shots, he hits. He’s definitely involved in every game. 600 is a pretty special number. Obviously, it’s just a step on the ladder for him. He has a long career still ahead of him. It goes to show how an undrafted player can come in, work hard, play the game the right way and stay healthy as well.”
Girardi has gone on to exceed expectations throughout his nine-year career. He was named to his first NHL All-Star Game in 2012. Earlier that season, former head coach John Tortorella lashed out in a press conference after a reporter informed him that Girardi was left off the All-Star ballot.
“Our league is so a—backwards when it comes to that,” Tortorella said. “It’s not just this year that he’s underrated. This guy’s been a really good player, but if you don’t have pedigree in this league, they don’t look at you.”
That’s the thing with Girardi. He’s always been one of those consistently-performing defensemen who does a lot of things well that usually do not make it on the highlight reel – but when it comes to big games, this undrafted defenseman has always stood out a go-to guy.