When hockey players decide to hang up their skates, their desire to stay connected to the sport they played and were so very passionate about since childhood, is still as strong as ever before. Some end up working directly with their respective teams, while some decide to work on the other side of the microphone as TV or radio analysts. Many Habs alums now cover the Canadiens in one way or another, and we caught up with a few of them to learn more about their transition to the media. This week, Mathieu Darche, who is an analyst for RDS.
What motivated you to make the transition into the media world?
MATHIEU DARCHE: In my last year in Montreal, our team had a tough year and did not secure a playoff spot. Once the regular season ends, RDS typically approaches one or two active players to come on board to help out with their NHL playoff coverage. At that point in my career, I was not aware that it would be my last year with the Canadiens. So, I decided to join RDS that spring just because I thought it would help keep me busy. During the summer, I travelled to Italy with my wife to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, so I was mostly thinking the job would just help pay for our trip (laughs). Lastly, since I played such a big role in negotiations during the most recent labor dispute, I was asked to address the media. When I retired, RDS approached me and asked if I wanted to start working at the onset of the next season. I started out by helping analyze games – specifically games that did not involve the Canadiens - during intermissions, and I was also part of their pre and post-game coverage.
What was your perception of journalists when you were a player?
MD: I have always believed that you should treat people the way you would like to be treated. I always tried to treat journalists with respect. However, one thing I said to RDS when I first arrived was that I am not a journalist, I am an analyst. I am not here to get scoops. I still have friends on those teams. I think I found my comfort zone in analyzing hockey games. I do a breakdown of the game I’m watching that night and that’s it. I have to admit that RDS has gone above and beyond in my situation. I was never asked to comment on subjects that compromised my personal relationships. I still have close friends on the Canadiens and other NHL teams. At my age, I even have friends on the administration side all over the league. I said right away I wasn’t comfortable compromising those relationships and they respected that. I want to maintain my relationship with the guys I still keep in contact with, like Carey [Price] and David [Desharnais].
Analyzing the performance of your former team must feel a bit weird, right?
MD: At the beginning, yes. In my position, I try to make sure that I never criticize the player, but rather critique the team as a whole. If a team plays badly, I’ll be the first to say it. But, the players receive non-stop criticism from the media, they don’t need it from me, too. I stick to analyzing what is happening in the game without targeting the players. I’ve walked in their shoes. I remember in my first year there was a controversy surrounding Carey Price and comparing him to a hermit. I had come to his defense on social media only to have people tell me that I should not be so quick to do so. But, he is the best goalie in the world. That's why I returned to Twitter today to ask, ‘Where are the Carey haters now?’ I may be privy to some knowledge that others are not. I know the character of the guys in the room. I can talk about things that others might think they know, but it’s different when you’re on the inside.
While you were playing, did you ever picture what you would look like on the other side of the microphone?
MD: No, I didn’t. But, at the same time, I'm never in the room mingling with the guys. So, my situation is somewhat different. I'm not around the team constantly like some other media members are. I stick to commenting on what I see on TV or at the Bell Centre. I am not an insider. I love what I do because I have always been drawn to stay in the hockey industry. It keeps me connected and I really like that. I always had a passion for analyzing games and the fact that I actually played in the NHL makes my job easier. I do not want to disrespect the journalists, but it's difficult to analyze something that you have not experienced yourself. They can draw some important conclusions, but as a former player, I can go even deeper.
How do you find that the media world has changed since you first began playing?
MD: Today, everyone is a medium. With blogs and social media, anyone can get rumors out, regardless of whether they are true or not. The landscape has changed. Now, with smartphones in everyone’s hands, the fans have almost unlimited access to information. For players, you have to be even more careful.
During your career, which city’s journalists did you like or dislike the most?
MD: In Canadian cities, people know their hockey a little bit more. The journalists in Tampa were always respectful. Even when I went to Montreal, they took the time to come see me. When I played for other teams, it was always special to see how crazy the Montreal media circus was. You typically had three or four journalists throughout the year and then suddenly you find yourself playing a game against Montreal in January - that doesn’t even mean much - and the dressing room is full.
What's the most embarrassing question that you were asked as a player?
MD: I used to have problems with the obvious questions. I remember at one point in a playoff series, I had suited up for warmup, but I did not play in the game. Journalists came to see me to ask me what that was like. What do you want me to answer? Because I certainly wasn’t going to say I enjoyed not playing. There are some tricky questions sometimes.
Do you ever have disagreements your colleagues?
MD: Sometimes, when things go wrong with a team in the NHL, people make assumptions. That’s when I try to talk to them. I remember a colleague who mentioned that a player was struggling because he was not happy with his situation. But, that isn't how the NHL works. I think you need to play in the league to understand that.
Interview conducted by Hugo Fontaine.