NEW YORK - Mathieu Darche knew there was risk involved when he volunteered to join the NHLPA's negotiating committee this summer.
The former Montreal Canadiens left wing, who grew up in Montreal cheering for the Habs and idolized Mats Naslund, has been without a hockey home since he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
He turns 36 on Nov. 26, and because the impending NHL lockout, which is set to begin at midnight on Saturday, could last months, not weeks, Darche may have played his final NHL game.
There also is no guarantee that some owners and some general managers won't hold a grudge with a union man like Darche, making it even more difficult for him to find a place to play. But the thoughtful veteran is steadfast in his belief that his time alongside his brethren and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr will be worth it.
"You're trying to make things better for the union," Darche said. "I know it's a bit of a risk. But players have done this before me in 1994 and 2004. You can go back as far as Ted Lindsay when you think of it.
"Just because I'm 35 and my career could be over if there is a long lockout, it would be pretty hypocritical of me to say let's play because it won't affect my salary that much and I'm at the end of my career."
Darche, a McGill commerce program graduate, has played 250 NHL games. Two years ago, when he scored his first goal for the Habs, he became the first McGill grad to score a goal for the Canadiens in more than 80 years.
But gaining a full-time roster spot in the NHL was not easy for Darche. He played football and hockey at McGill, and enjoyed a 27-goal, 62-point breakout season in 26 games in his final year with the Redmen, earning him all-Canadian status and an invite to the Columbus Blue Jackets' training camp.
He bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL, and spent a season in Germany before he landed his first full-time NHL gig at age 31 with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2007-08. The previous year he was involved in the AHL labour dispute, and felt he not only gained respect from his peers but from some of the owners, too.
Before he jumped onto the NHLPA negotiating team, Darche sought advice from an NHL owner, two general managers and another two assistant GMs.
"Not one of them told me I shouldn't go," Darche said. "They all told me it would be a worthwhile experience. What I have been learning in the last couple of months you can't get in a business class."
Earlier this summer, Darche talked to a bunch of NHL teams in the hopes of gaining a roster spot. Whether or not he gets signed after the lockout remains to be sceen. But maybe he'll be back in the league one day working in a team's front office.
"It's something that has always interested in me," he said. "I studied this a bit at McGill and I was involved in [a labour dispute] in the AHL [in 2006]. In the AHL, some of the owners respected that I was involved and even some of the NHL owners say it's great that you're involved.
"I've said all along to reporters in Montreal that I would like to get involved in the business side of hockey after my career has finished. I'm gaining valuable experience just being around Donald Fehr the past two months and even Gary Bettman. We can say all we want about him, but he's not in his position because he's a stupid man."
Father, son on different sides in NHL lockout
Gregory Campbell said he lost interest in his father Colin's career the day he was no longer the New York Rangers head coach and turned in his whistle for an executive office in the NHL's hockey operations department.
The 28-year-old Boston Bruins forward didn't seem to be joking. Still, he was asked what sort of conversations about the league's labour problems he has with his Dad these days.
"This may sound pretty typical, but we don't talk about it," Gregory Campbell said. "It's something we've done my whole career. I tried to keep my business and his business separate. I don't think it's appropriate to mesh the two together, especially at this point.
"I have a job to do, and I'm with the players. He has his job to do with the league."
Gregory said his Dad always has been his role model and that he benefited from hanging around NHL dressing rooms when his father played and coached in the NHL. At a young age, Gregory often had a chance to step on the ice with the game's best players.
But he doesn't see his parents as often these days. He married his long-time girlfriend Katie this summer. They live in Kitchener, Ont., about 45 minutes from his Mom and Dad in Tillsonburg, Ont., but occasionally visit them at the family cottage.
"I talk to my Dad as much as any normal 28-year-old," Gregory said.
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