Sunday 4 November 2012

Mathieu Darche: the ambassador the Habs still need

There is no telling when the  Montreal Canadiens will resume playing hockey. It is all in the hands of the least popular man in professional sports, Commissioner Gary Bettman and the NHL Players Association boss Donald Fehr. The cancellation Friday of the Winter Classic in Michigan indicates that the entire 2012-2013 season may be lost.

On Friday November 2 I was at McGill University's McConnell Winter Stadium to see the hometown national champion Redmen host the York University Lions. It was a special daytime Score with School Contest, which I had the distinction of organizing for the English Montreal School Board. Thanks to the tireless work of my colleague Daniel Smajovits, we worked directly with Martin Routhier of Rooths Sports and managed to attract more than 700 students to attend. The message repeated was "Stay in School." McGill won 2-0.
Darche signs autographs at McGill game.

We were very fortunate to have the best ambassador any school can ask for in former Hab Mathieu Darche. Here is a man who got his degree at McGill in Commerce and Marketing, made it to the pros and carved out a pretty good career for himself. Over the last number of years he was my favorite player on the team. A real grinder, he took the body, dove in front of shots and scored some key goals. More importantly he was the best ambassador the team could ask for, always available to talk to the media and present  at community events.

Last summer new Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin offered Darche a two-way contract, meaning that if he was sent down to the minors he would take a significant cut in pay. The message was being sent that he was simply not in their plans. Strangely though, they signed another forward in Petteri Nokelainen in the same salary range. Nokelainen was hardly a fan favorite, nor much to write home about. Certainly keeping Darche on the roster would have been a much better move.

The NHL lockout has not been good news for any of the players. In the case of Darche, he is an unsigned free-agent in the latter part of his career. He also has a family residing happily on the South Shore following a decade of being constantly on the run.  If this NHL mess is ever resolved, I would bet some team will grab him. I still hope Bergevin will give Darche more consideration.

At the moment Darche is a key player in the NHL lockout, part of Fehr's negotiating team. "I speak to Donald Fehr regularly," Darche told me. "I am so impressed with the man."

Should Darche decide to retire, the Canadiens would be well advised to hire this guy and put him in the head office as part of their community relations team. In fact, he'd be the ideal person to head such an initiative, getting his foot in the management door on his way to one day becoming an assistant coach or  general manager. Perfectly bilingual and educated, he is a fabulous role model out there for all of the kids whom we want to keep on the right track. Failing that, I am sure there is a place for him in the local broadcast media.

When we brought Darche to LaurenHill Academy in September, and again at the game on November 2, every kid wanted his autograph and to talk to him.  They all knew he wore number 52. He helped us promote the game at McGill, which by the way was very entertaining. Folks who miss the Habs can certainly have a bit of their appetite filled by seeing the Redmen or their crosstown rivals the Concordia Stingers play. There was plenty of end to end action, good body contact and a nice ambiance in the arena. With a surround seating capacity of over 800, with an  impressive VIP lounge, this is a great place to watch hockey.

1 comment:

  1. My team had a game in Napierville today (November 4th) and Mathieu Darche was in attendance watching his son (who plays for Candiac). Darche was swarmed by kids and he patiently signed autographs for all of them.