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(Paul Chiasson)
(Paul Chiasson)

French Immersion

Matthew Darche's long journey to the NHL Add to ...

There is a scourge descending upon this and other lands, loyal and gentle public.

And your friends at French Immersion, despite their many irredeemable flaws, are willing to speak its name: homerism.

That's right. No use burying our heads or mincing words.

The FI training course for new employees - perhaps the most challenging 14 minutes they will face in their careers as faceless copy monkeys and compilers of dodgy statistics - strictly prohibits any kind of mindless shilling for the home team or cheering in the press box.

Not for us the on-board-ism, deference and partisanship that's become all-too-common in sports, especially, we regret to say, among the television types.

For example, we were proper scandalized at last year's Olympics to see Chinese reporters shouting and thumping their desks when their short-trackers were going blade-to-blade with the South Koreans (do those countries have a history or something?). We might also cite some examples closer to home (hello RDS broadcast crew!).

The beady eyed will, however, have noticed a notable exception to our anti-boosterism policy: fellow alums of McGill University.

Call us hypocrites if you must, but we can't help but have a soft spot for Redmen and Martlets made good.

Which brings us, naturally enough, to the man our RDS colleague and proper journalist Renaud Lavoie has dubbed The Darche Vader.

There are 700-odd players in the National Hockey League, and we are willing to wager an entire year's worth of FI LLP's handsome profits that none of them have followed the career path of Mr. Mathieu Darche of St. Laurent, Que.

How many other guys started out as linebackers and long-snappers on their university football teams (Darche weighed 240 pounds in his first year) before going on to a record-setting four years in CIS hockey? How many other guys in the league became established NHL players at the advanced age of 33? How many others earned their first one-way contract just a few weeks before their 34th birthday?

None, that's how many (an assertion that's too good to actually check, so don't bother sending other examples if any exist, and no, Tim Thomas and Glen Metropolit, the Moss Park Magician, don't count).

While Darche is in his 11th pro season, tonight he will play only his 174th NHL game.

So give it up for our boy Mathieu, who shattered - shattered! - his previous career high for goals in a season against the Anaheim Ducks this past Saturday, a landmark that has passed virtually unnoticed in Habsland.

The Darche Knight has eight on the season, which he has potted in 43 games, 30 fewer than it took him to score seven in 2007-08 for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I should have had it against Boston," he said, referencing a recent disallowed goal when we asked him about the upcoming record-breaker last week. "It'll be nice when it happens, but hopefully I'm not done (scoring) yet."

Well it's happened, so raise a glass to yourself, big boy.

It may surprise casual watchers to learn that Darche has more power-play points than Brian Gionta, and as many as Andrei Kostitsyn - who make a combined $7.6-million more than he does.

He's spent time filling in on the top line alongside Tomas Plekanec - and didn't look out of place - and at various times in the season has been a member of the team's hottest line with Jeff Halpern or Lars Eller at centre He and regular linemate Benoit Pouliot - who has clearly benefited from playing with Darche, as have youngsters Eller and David Desharnais - have combined for 39 points, which isn't bad in the least for guys who mostly play 10-12 minutes per game.

Pouliot gives a lot of credit to Darche for his improved consistency, and said he is a ready dispenser of advice.

"He's constantly talking on the bench. In fact, after a while you kind of tune it out and just nod," Pouliot joked. "He's a really easy guy to play with, he always does the same things, he's a dependable, hard-working guy, he goes to the net, he goes into to the corner, he always makes the smart play."

Even Jacques Martin, who throws compliments around like they're manhole covers, recently praised the fine work of a player "who understands his limits."

At least we think that was a compliment.

Either way, it's the proverbial dream come true for Darche - although he freely admits that the true Habs freak in his family is brother Jean-Philippe, who played nearly a decade in the NFL.

Not that he's prepared to stop and smell the roses.

"I know my job isn't safe, I have to keep producing. But I don't mind, it's always been like that," Darche said last week.

Yes, it's an appalling lack of professionalism and an egregious violation of journalistic ethics to quietly applaud a player we cover.

But we also know where FI's Masterton vote is going this year.



 

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