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A unique opportunity

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL- He might not have been the last man standing in the most recent edition of Battle of the Blades, but Mathieu Dandenault got a lot out of the experience.

Keeping himself busy since retiring from professional hockey in 2010 through his involvement with the media and the Canadiens alumni, Dandenault recently decided to accept another challenge. Exchanging his hockey skates for a pair of figure skates, the former Habs blue-liner took part in the fourth season of CBC’s popular show in hopes of raising funds for the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation. The smooth-skating Sherbrooke, QC native admits that he did hesitate somewhat before confirming his participation in the program given that the task involved was completely different than anything he’s been called to do before.

Mathieu Dandenault and Marie-France Dubreuil finished third in the latest season of Battle of the Blades on CBC. (CBC-Battle of the Blades)

“I really liked the experience. When I said yes to the invitation this summer, I didn’t have any expectations. I’ve talked to Stephane Richer and Patrice Brisebois, and both told me that they really enjoyed their experience and that I should accept,” admits Dandenault, who was one of four Habs representatives on the most recent season of BOTB alongside Brian Savage, Vladimir Malakhov and winner Scott Thornton. “Also, when you see guys like Tie Domi and Bob Probert, two of the toughest guys in the history of the NHL, take part in the first season, you hesitate a bit less.”

While the 37-year-old might have been a rookie in the figure skating world, he could, however, count on the advice of an experienced tutor: Marie-France Dubreuil, a two-time Olympian and twice a silver medalist at the World Championships. Dubreuil couldn’t have picked a better pupil since the former Hab was one of the best skaters in the league during his hockey career. Still, Dandenault confesses that some of the new techniques he was required to master did not come naturally to him.

“The preparation was difficult. I was expecting that, especially with the ‘toe pick’. I think I fell a few times. What I really loved was the fact that you can create something around the way you skate, and make it a spectacle. Marie-France was a great help in that regard for sure,” attested Dandenault. “Regardless, we only had four weeks to do the show. She saw that my skating stride was pretty good, so she felt comfortable showing me more difficult moves and I was comfortable right away.”

Dandenault admits to having a few difficulties during his figure skating training. (CBC-Battle of the Blades)

While figure skating is sometimes qualified as ‘girly’ by its detractors, Dandenault was quick to defend his second sport during the season finale of BOTB. Having developed an even more profound appreciation for the skill and athleticism needed to excel on the ice without a puck, he insists that any hockey parent would be well-served by signing up their aspiring All-Star for figure skating lessons.

“It’s cool to be a figure skater. In fact, I think figure skaters are a lot more skilled on the ice than hockey players,” confided the Red Wings’ second-round pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. “In hockey, you just have to get from point A to point B as fast as possible, while in figure skating every stride matters in a routine. I just started playing again with the Habs Alumni, and I know I’m a better skater now than before.”

While Dandenault and Dubreuil finished third overall in the competition, just reaching the final and representing the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation was a victory in and of itself. Heavily involved in the foundation’s community-based initiatives since joining the Canadiens back in 2005, Dandenault is the first to express his desire to give back to an organization that gave him so much.

“It’s important for me to help the Canadiens family,” underlined Dandenault. “I played four years with the Habs. I loved my experience in Montreal, and I feel very fortunate to be able to still be a part of the family. With everything that the foundation does to raise funds, the Canadiens helped my family a lot, and I want to do the same.”

Hugo Fontaine is a writer for Translated by Jack Han.

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