Mathieu Darche photographed at Delmar International Inc. headquarters in Lachine.
John Mahoney, Gazette
Former Canadiens forward Mathieu Darche earned a degree in international business 13 years ago at McGill University. The popular, bilingual Darche is now putting that degree to good use, hired to the new post of director of business development and public relations for Delmar International Inc., the global freight-forwarding and customs brokerage giant.
It took him 13 years, but former Canadiens forward Mathieu Darche is finally putting his McGill University international business degree to great use.
For the past three weeks, Darche has been settling in as director of business development and public relations for Lachine-headquartered Delmar International Inc., a global giant in freight forwarding and customs brokerage.
His appointment to the newly created position will be announced on Tuesday via Delmar press release.
“They’ve offered me a great job that’s right up my alley, something that fits my personality and skills,” Darche said. “I’ve never worked a regular job and I didn’t know what to expect but they’ve treated me great.
“If Delmar treats their customers the way they’ve treated me, I’m not surprised that they’re successful.”
Darche, 36, retired from the NHL last February, having played 250 NHL games for Columbus, Nashville, San Jose, Tampa Bay and, finally, the Canadiens.
He’d hoped to catch on as a free agent following last season’s lockout but when that possibility withered, he hung up his skates on Feb. 19 with a few words on his Twitter account: “Time to make it official! Moving on to second career.”
Darche didn’t rule out a career in hockey management. He was an impressive, important voice on NHLPA head Don Fehr’s negotiating team during CBA talks but in hockey found neither the right fit nor the challenge he sought.
And then, as a guest at last April’s annual Cummings Jewish Centre sports celebrity benefit breakfast, he met Mike Wagen, senior vice-president and chief operating officer of family-owned, privately held Delmar.
A pleasant talk led the men to a lunch. Another with Delmar founder and chairman Harrison Cutler, CEO Robert Cutler and a few company executives and several more meetings led to an offer Darche was happy to accept.
He always figured he’d wind up in business, having earned his degree in 2000 while playing for the McGill Redmen.
“There was a little 13-year sidetrack, which I loved,” Darche said, laughing, of his NHL and minor-pro career. “But I almost feel that what I’m doing now is what I studied for.”
The fluently bilingual, community-minded native of St. Laurent impressed Delmar from their first contact.
“Mathieu represents the ideal person to assume this brand new role,” said Wagen, whom Darche calls “a great mentor.”
“(Darche) is a really wonderful role model, having made sure to get a good education before pursuing his career as a professional athlete. … It is extraordinary how many of our customers are anxious and excited to meet him and how well he has got on with our associates.”
Darche won’t be far from hockey; he will continue as a studio hockey analyst for RDS and expects to be a regular visitor to the Bell Centre, where Delmar, sponsor of TSN Radio 690’s Canadiens post-game show, has a loge for business entertainment.
“This is a relationship-based business,” Darche said, Delmar a leader in a service, non-asset based industry. “Many companies can do the same thing, it’s the service you bring and the ability to maintain those relationships that’s important.
“If your rates are competitive, people will go with who they like.”
Aggressively working the lucrative, potential-rich Quebec market, Darche views his new career not unlike a hockey team – he can win contracts, which in turn must be serviced by the accounts team, but the accounts team can’t do much if he doesn’t bring them work.
“Being an ex Hab doesn’t hurt me when I go to meet people,” he said. “Instead of having to push business over dinner, people might come to talk to me because of hockey.
“But I realize that much as that helps me now, in 15 or 10 or even five years, people might still know I’m an ex Hab but it won’t carry as much as it does now.
“I’ll use this now to help me make my reputation. It’s a learning curve and I have to do the work. People won’t come to us just because I played for the Habs. I’ve got to bring substance. I sell Delmar, not me. …
“Being an ex Hab is an asset but I’ve got to show people that I know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot to learn and I’ve been on a steep learning curve. From my first day here I’ve been part of all the major meetings about accounts we’re bidding for, been in on a few meetings with companies, some of them trying to make a pitch for business, others as a courtesy.
“I talked to some people in hockey this summer during this (Delmar) process but nothing came up that I really wanted to do.”
Darche is equally delighted that the work didn’t require an uprooting of his young family. His wife, Stéphanie, who spent the past year working on her Master’s thesis in international business, begins a new job on Wednesday with Rio Tinto.
And he’ll have the time to help coach the hockey teams of their sons Samuel, 10, and Benjamin, 8.
“Even if I’d made millions and millions in the NHL, if something like Delmar came up now I’d probably have taken it,” Darche said. “It’s right up what I studied and what I thought I would do. I want to be challenged professionally and intellectually, and this is a nice challenge.”
That’s not to say that Darche doesn’t already miss hockey. This is the first year in 14 seasons that he’s not in the mindset of a professional preparing for training camp, skating with the boys, having spent the summer working out to arrive at camp within a few hard practices of game shape.
Canadiens defenceman Francis Bouillon lives just two houses over in Candiac; their sons are not only close friends, they were linemates in minor hockey last season, Samuel Darche centering Bouillon’s twins. Good buddy Travis Moen is a few blocks away.
“I used to work out in the summer and see Frankie Boo and Steve Bégin, so it was weird not training with them,” Darche said when we spoke late last week. “My kids have kept me so busy and now I’ve got this job but it feels weird a bit. …
“My new schedule gives me some flexibility, so even when the bridge gets busier after Labour Day, I’ll be able to schedule meetings and lunches around traffic.”
“And in my new job, I report only to my bosses. I’m not graded the next morning in the newspapers, or by 21,273 at the Bell Centre and by those watching TV.
“Travis just came back (last week from his off-season Saskatchewan home). I had the keys to his house, so I went over to drop them off. Guys are starting to come back into town. I talked to Carey (Price) the day after his wedding, it was, ‘See you soon.’ I talk to P.K. (Subban) a lot during the summer.
“It will be tough when camp starts and you’re out of it, but it will be easier than last year when all I was doing was RDS. That kept me too involved with the Habs and it kind of reopened the wound,” Darche said, having ultimately turned down the Canadiens’ final offer in June 2012 of a two-way contract.
“I still have a lot of friends – Frankie, Travis, Josh (Gorges), Carey, P.K., Brian (Gionta), they’re still my buddies and I wish them well. I’ll still be watching.”
Darche speaks highly of incoming Canadiens heavyweight George Parros.
“George is one of the most intelligent hockey players I’ve ever met,” he said of the Princeton economics major. “During the CBA talks he understood everything. We didn’t always agree but we always respected each other’s opinion. We understood the concepts even if we didn’t always have the same opinion. He’s a real, real smart guy.”
What Darche says he’ll miss most about hockey “is playing.”
“The first game I went to last season, I stood up for the anthem in the press box and got goosebumps. I always said, when (P.A. announcer) Michel Lacroix says, ‘Accueillons nos Canadiens!’, you get goosebumps. After three years in Montreal, I still had them.
“I was standing, thinking, ‘I still want to play, I should try again next year,’ but I couldn’t put my life and my family’s lives on hold just so I could try one more year. It was time to move on. But you miss playing, competing. I didn’t win a Stanley Cup and I wish I could have had one.
Darche recently appeared on behalf of the Montreal Canadiens Children’s Foundation, a role he took great pride in while with the club, and is eager to do foundation work with Delmar, which is generously active in the community.
For now, every day a new challenge, there’s the matter of getting back into game shape, even if his game now is played in boardrooms and an orderly office – “I hate clutter!” – in Lachine.
On a family trip to Washington recently, Darche visited with friend and former teammate Jeff Halpern. And with that visit came a drop-in to Astro Doughnuts, the decadent D.C. shop co-owned by Halpern.
“You’ve got to have the crème brûlée!” Darche said, almost salivating at the memory. “The day we were there, they launched a doughnut sandwich – doughnut top and bottom with ice cream in the middle.
“But I’ve got to start being careful with what I eat. When I retired, I let go, and I when I started here, I was uncomfortable in my suits.”
To that end, Darche is lacing up running shoes instead of skates, planning to do a half-marathon in Montreal this month. He’s entered with – sort of – his wife, Stéphanie, a distance-running veteran.
“I can’t have her beat me,” he said, laughing, saying he’s set a goal of one hour, 45 minutes for the 21-kilometre (13-mile) effort.
So is the plan, I asked Darche, for the couple to run together, symbolic of writing a new family chapter, husband and wife simultaneously setting sail into new careers?
“My plan is to run ahead of her,” he said, laughing again. “My plan is for her to watch me run.”
• Follow Mathieu Darche on Twitter: @matdarche52
Below: Mathieu Darche at work at his orderly desk at Delmar headquarters in Lachine.
John Mahoney, Gazette