NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Predators were at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint for their 2017 preseason party, and then-head coach Peter Laviolette had taken the stage. Information travels fast in the hockey world, and Laviolette had heard that 19-year-old Nashville rookie Samuel Girard had a party trick worth showing off.
“There were rumors that he could sing operas,” recalls Predators forward Colton Sissons.
Laviolette called Girard onto the stage and challenged him to show what he can do. Also thanks to the party atmosphere, the young defender gave way.
“Well, I’ve had a few drinks,” says Girard, who is now with Avalanche. “I was like, ‘Okay, let’s just do it.'”
He’s still not quite sure how Laviolette found out about his abilities – he thinks the Predators’ strength coach may have found out from one of his old trainers that the rookie could sing – but since the evening’s libations eliminated any nerves, he belted out the famous first few notes of “Ave Maria” in a high operatic voice.
“We were all pretty shocked,” Sissons said. And they loved it.
“He has a great voice,” says Predators captain Roman Josi. “Like, a really good voice.”
Girard’s singing talent does not come from classical training. It came when I saw the movie “Step Brothers” around the age of 12 or 13 growing up in Roberval, Quebec.
After watching Will Ferrell’s character Brennan sing “Por Ti Volare” in the Catalina Wine Mixer, Girard tried out an operatic voice of his own. To quote Brennan’s stepbrother Dale, his voice turned out to be “like a combination of Fergie and Jesus.”
Girard’s local church asked him to sing growing up, but he didn’t have time on the weekends. After all, he played a lot of ice hockey. However, Girard’s father Tony made sure he had plenty of music. He would play songs on the weekends and the family would sing around the campfire and at karaoke nights. And the “Step Brothers” inspired discovery, he adopted the opera as a party trick.
“I only sing when people ask,” he says. “If nobody asks me, I won’t do it.”
Predators players ran out of time to ask. Girard’s time with the team didn’t last long as he joined the Avalanche in November 2017 in Matt Duchene’s blockbuster three-team deal.
Despite playing just five games for the Predators, he made several career milestones with the club, clinching his first point with an assist on a Filip Forsberg goal and scoring a goal himself two days later. Josi immediately remembers the speed of his 5-foot-10-year-old former teammate, and so does Laviolette.
“I remember the same thing you’re seeing about him right now: his cunning, his ability to dodge defenses and players, and his ability to skate, create and make plays,” said the coach, who now works for the Capitals sitting behind the bench. “He had that before he came into the NHL and he did it as soon as he got into the NHL and now he does it every day.”
Forsberg adds: “It was fun to watch his development.”
As his game has improved, singing has remained in his repertoire, and he tested the Avalanche at a season ticket holder event in October 2018. Captain Gabriel Landeskog handed Girard a microphone as he stood in line with the players. This time he didn’t have any drinks available to take the pressure off.
“I was pretty nervous,” he says.
But his Avalanche teammates loved it, as did his Predators. Colin Wilson held a cackling Tyson Jost and Mikko Rantanen raised his right arm as he cheered. Erik Johnson gave a short laugh and then nodded solemnly to the song. Sports reporter Lauren Gardner, who was on Altitude TV at the time, quoted the widely quotable “Step Brothers” on TV the next night and called Girard “the songbird of his generation”.
“I only sing part of the song,” Girard clarifies. “I don’t know the whole song.”
On the ice, he was quick to impress Colorado as well.
“He surprised me when we first got him,” says coach Jared Bednar. “You really don’t know anything about him. He’d only played a little bit in Nashville. … And suddenly he comes in here and fits in with what we did: young player, very good offensive skills, great skater, dynamic guy.”
Now in his fifth postseason with Colorado, he plays his former Nashville teammates. And after struggling with physicality in last year’s Western Conference semifinals against Vegas, he’s holding his own against an injured Predators club. He has played at least 20 minutes and provided two assists in every game. Despite making a costly misplay trying to stop a Roman Josi pass in Game 2, Bednar said his reading of the game was solid. The puck bounced through the crouched Girard at an odd angle, leading to a Predators goal.
Overall, however, Colorado has 11 more chances to score when Girard is on the ice than the Natural Stat trick allows, and he has strong underlying numbers. He has a 64.41 Corsi For percentage, also according to Natural Stat Trick, and the Avalanche have scored 56.32 percent of expected five-for-five goals with him on the ice. In what has been a varied season for the 23-year-old, his game has come at the right time.
“We all know playoffs are more intense,” he says. “You just have to be ready.”
(Photo: Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)