Among the players fighting for a roster spot with the 2009-10 San Jose Sharks, Mathieu Dandenault is in a category by himself. Many skaters are hoping to make the club as a forward or a blueliner. Dandenault doesn’t really care how he makes the cut.
Dandenault is a 33-year-old veteran with previous stops in Detroit and Montreal. The man clearly understands the pressure of playing in established hockey markets. In Detroit, the demand was always for a championship and Dandenault was on three Stanley Cup Champions. In Montreal, the championship demands are forever present (fair or not) and it also has the added pressure of being in a province that eats, sleeps and dreams hockey.
What makes Dandenault special is that it does not matter what city or what position he plays, he simply gives his all. He can play forward or defense and be equally adept at either one.
“It’s been that way my whole career,” Dandenault said. “I enjoy it. It keeps my mind fresh.”
His success makes the two-position role hard to argue with. A forward by trade until he reached the NHL, Dandenault became a blueliner as well thanks to a suggestion from one of hockey’s greatest minds.
“I was never a defenseman until my second year in the NHL,” Dandenault said. “We won 62 games my rookie year in Detroit. Almost everyone on the team stayed, but there was room on defense. (Coach) Scotty Bowman said he’d like me to try it and it kept me playing.”
Learning a new position at the highest level of a sport can be difficult, but Dandenault said his surroundings made things easy.
“I had really great mentors,” Dandenault said. “Paul Coffey, Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov. It was a talented group. They helped me out during my time there.”
Plus the coaching staff was always willing to provided extra consulting.
“(Assistant Coach) Dave Lewis was very good to me,” he said.
In Montreal, Dandenault played was a forward or blueliner depending on the coach in charge.
“I was played more forward with Guy Carbonneau, but went back to D when Bob Gainey was coaching,” he said. “Late last year was probably the best stretch of my career.”
It may seem easy enough, but simply changing from a forward to a defenseman is harder that most would think. For those that can pull it off, there usually is a pretty common attribute.
“My biggest asset is skating,” Dandenault said. “It’s what got me to the NHL. If you stop skating, you’re not contributing to the team.
Dandenault is like a utility infielder in baseball. Players such as Dandenault can easily switch positions from game-to-game, or even during a contest.
“If the injury bug bites, I can play each position with confidence,” Dandenault said. “I will know the style and the league. A coach can feel safe with six defensemen (knowing) if one is injured, he can put a forward back.”
The experience will also be a determining factor in Dandenault’s place on the Sharks roster.
“You look at him with the experience he brings and the organizations he has played for,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “He has the ability to go from forward to defense at any time. We’ll move him around so we all have the information.”
The dual roles are almost a badge of honor for the Quebec native.
“I take pride in being versatile,” he said.
Dandenault will likely see time at forward in his next contest, but his locker spot is with the blueliners. Locker room location doesn’t matter to Dandenault. But having a place on the Opening Night roster does matter.
“I had a game where I played all five positions,” Dandenault said. “I want to be part of a winning team and I’ve been lucky enough to win the Stanley Cup a few times. This team is close.”
Fans looking to listen to the contest can click to: http://ducks.nhl.com/club/page.htm?id=44404
. The game will begin at 7 p.m.