Mathieu Darche stepped in and played a gritty game and chipped in with some timely offense. He finished the year with five goals and ten points in 29 games.
That was enough to get Darche into eleven of Montreal's nineteen Stanley Cup playoff games as the Habs went on a strong post-season run.
Not bad for a 34 year old career minor leaguer with over 500 AHL games and a season in Germany on his resume.
Darche proved it was no fluke, returning for two more seasons as an energetic bottom six forward.
Darche was a rare Canadian university graduate to play in the NHL. He had starred in Montreal in the late 1990s with the McGill Redmen. He had earned a commerce degree in marketing and international business.
Darche was not ready to give up on his NHL dream upon graduation. After all, he had been named as the outstanding student-athlete in all of Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). For that he was given the Dr. Randy Gregg Award.
Gregg, of course, is perhaps the most famous CIS grad to make it to the NHL, winning Stanley Cups with Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s after graduating from medical school.
Darche figured maybe he could be the next guy to make it to the NHL, despite the long odds.
“I knew that I had my degree to fall back on if my career in hockey didn’t work out – so I kept at it. It was a great help that my wife Stephanie was very understanding and supportive.”
Never drafted, Darche signed with the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000. He progressed nicely at the AHL level and earned a few looks in the NHL - 24 games in three years.
He continued on in the AHL for much of the rest of the decade, earning very brief NHL looks with Nashville and San Jose.
In 2007-08 Darche finally achieved his dream and played a full season of NHL hockey with the Tampa Bay Lightning. He scored seven goals and 22 points in 73 games, but when he was returned to the minor leagues the following year, he began thinking about life after hockey.
Though they probably never expected to get a full time NHLer, Montreal extended a contract offer in 2009. The team probably expected him to be a depth player at the minor league level, helping out the prospects. Darche, meanwhile, just hoped for one more call up so he could achieve his childhood dream of playing for the Montreal Canadiens. He grew up idolizing Mats Naslund,
Obviously everything worked out well for both parties. Montreal gave Darche his opportunity later that season, and Darche made the most of it.
The result was two and a half seasons of fantastic effort and hustle that was much appreciated by his coaches and the fans alike. Darche may not have had the wonderful skill level Naslund showed for all those years,
Mathieu Darche retired in 2012 after being cut from his tryout with the New Jersey Devils. Darche played 250 NHL games, scoring 30 goals and 72 points.
Not bad for a student, eh?
Darche would put his schooling to good use after hanging up his skates. He started working for freight forwarding company Delmar International in a public relations role but after learning the business it was not long before stepping into a business development role.
Darche would be inducted into the McGill University athletic hall of fame along side his brother Jean-Phillippe - a football star who went on to play nine seasons in the National Football League with Seattle and Kansas City while continuing to study medicine.