Re-printed with permission from Yale Men’s Ice Hockey 12/2/2020 8:01:00 AM Steve Conn
CLARKS SUMMIT, Pa. – The captain who led Yale to its first ECAC Hockey Championship before skating for 14 professional teams in seven leagues – including the Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils – is now the Chief Operating Officer of LiveBarn, the industry leading youth sports streaming service in North America.
Ray Giroux ’98 was best known for being the younger half of the only brother (Rich ’95) combination to captain Yale Hockey Teams, until he led the Bulldogs to their best-ever record (23-9-3), a regular-season conference title and Yale’s first NCAA appearance in 46 years while being tabbed a Hobey Baker Finalist, an All-American and the ECAC Hockey Defensive Player of the Year. He became one of the most decorated skaters in Yale history.
The North Bay, Ontario, native, an eighth-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1994 draft, while weighing in at 154 pounds, joined Rich at Yale when he was 18 and left New Haven 36 pounds heavier and with the second most points for a blueliner in school history. Legendary Yale and U.S. Olympic Head Coach Tim Taylor said, “Ray is an NHL skater with an NHL brain. He doesn’t have an NHL body yet, but he’ll work on that.”
Giroux took the challenge to heart and played 16 pro seasons in three different countries while accumulating 180 goals and 433 points over 877 games. That included 38 NHL games – 11 of those were regular-season dates during the Devils’ 2003 run to the Stanley Cup title – and 389 American Hockey League contests for the four-time pro all-star selection who also competed in the AHL Skills Competition and earned the league’s Man of the Year Award for outstanding contributions in the community numerous times, one of the things he’s most proud of.
“My greatest accomplishment was longevity, and I cherished the good and bad times. Despite being crushed by it at the time, I learned a lot by being sent down (to the minors) as adversity can help you grow. I feel fortunate that the game of hockey has been very good to me, so giving back and helping others just seemed like the right thing to do.”
He was on bluelines in the AHL and NHL and then went to Switzerland for a winter before returning to the U.S. and eventually finding smoother ice in Russia. Most North American former college hockey players don’t last long in the pro game over there, but he flourished over eight seasons, including 238 Kontinental Hockey League games, a 2006 Russian Championship, a 2007 IIHF European Champions Cup and a 2009 KHL All-Star appearance.
“There’s a little truth to every crazy anecdote you might here about Russian pro hockey. I was amazed at what I saw,” said Giroux, who squeezed a Swedish pro season in between eight Eastern Bloc winters.
There were some former NHL players who helped Giroux assimilate in Russian pro hockey, including Alexei Morozov and Fred Brathwaite. One experience that was “surreal”, was being selected to the KHL All-Star team, alongside future hall of famer Jaromir Jagr, to play in the heart of Red Square on an outdoor rink next to the Kremlin.
“Too cold to be a memory. It was 30 below zero, so I was in survival mode that night. I didn’t even want to touch the puck it was so cold. Luckily my wife, who was then pregnant with our first son Henri, took some great pictures” said Giroux, who says learning the Russian language helped him sustain a European career.
The guy who took Italian as his language requirement at Yale, took Russian lessons and studied the language to become proficient, endearing himself to coaches, teammates and fans alike. “It was a challenge, but immersing yourself in the culture and learning the language was the only way to last there.”
Hockey skills, rather than brute force, were also at a premium for KHL survival. Giroux’s hands, feet and vision were better suited for the larger rinks of Europe. He always looked like a quarterback on the ice at Ingalls Rink, and KHL teams sought players like him.
“Winning a championship in Russia with no family around was unique but still a fantastic experience. It was a growing moment as a person, adapting to life overseas with such a big cultural change.”
Fast forward to now and Giroux is focused on his family and running LiveBarn, which helps families watch kids play when they can’t get to the venue, and players and coaches evaluate what happened in a game or practice with video highlights. It’s used for multiple sports at facilities throughout North America.
Coaching his two sons’ (Henri, 11, and Oliver, 7) hockey teams and watching his daughter, Eloise (9), experience the arts and lacrosse are equally challenging to expanding the footprint of the company he has worked for since 2015.
Some of what he uses in coaching and managing people came from Taylor, his mentor at Yale.
“Tim (Taylor) impacted me as a person and a player, and the things he taught set us up to be better in life. On the ice, he wanted to get us out of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves. I’m always challenging our kids with that, having them play and understand different positions,” said Giroux, who always has his white board and marker in hand on the bench (like Taylor) and wants his skaters to be aggressive with the puck, take chances and join the rush on defense.
“More than just X’s and O’s, we are trying to teach the kids lessons they can apply in life, like working hard, team work and accountability. If you work hard and have fun, the results will follow. It’s not always about the outcome.”
The hard work and results are in full view on LiveBarn, which is now in many NHL practice rinks. That technology would have saved Brian and Linda Giroux a lot of time when they were toting their boys around North Bay Ontario all those years before the two became Bulldogs. That commitment certainly paid dividends; both boys are chief operating officers (Rich is also chief financial officer for MeiraGTx, a gene therapy company) and pillars of their communities.
“Playing with my brother in college was a great experience for me, but even more so for my parents. They got up every Saturday at 5 a.m. to take us to practice, sacrificing much of their time and money. We are lucky and blessed for having wonderful parents, and they were so proud of us having the “C” on our jerseys.”
The youngest Giroux boy, who spent countless hours on the outdoor rink across the street from his home, relished being part of the Yale Hockey Family when he left home, and he helped his new brothers go from one of the worst seasons in program history to the best in just two winters.
“It was so much fun helping to create a buzz around campus and getting the support from everyone around us. We were not the most skilled team overall, but we were a close knit group that played as a team,” said Giroux about the 1997-98 squad. A different player would rise above the others each night. I hope we played a small role in helping the program move forward.”
He and his teammates certainly did get the puck sliding in the right direction for the Bulldogs, who were on the way to the most prolific run in program history, including a national championship and the highest win percentage in Division I between 2008 and 2012.
Giroux’s Yale experience also included a relationship with Theo Epstein ’95, and they remain great friends to this day. The former president of the Chicago Cubs brought the Eli player to spring training to immerse himself in the Baseball Operations department, an experience that helped him in his current role.
The seasoned international skater would still be traveling for work if not for the pandemic, but working from his home in Pennsylvania allows for more time with his wife, Megan, and the kids.
“I’m extremely fortunate to have such a great family and work to go to that doesn’t seem like work at all.”
And he has plenty of stories about Russia to share with them, many of which have to wait until the kids are older.