Darche a stabilizing force on young Pirates

by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com

Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.

darche09b_200.jpgAt some point during the season, the tidbit leaked out, and all Portland forward Mathieu Darche could do was try to contain it.

In 2000-01, when Darche made his NHL debut with Columbus, he played on a line with Blue Jackets forward Kevin Dineen.

That would be the same Kevin Dineen who coaches Darche and the rest of the Pirates now.

"Some guys found out two or three weeks ago. I’m already being called the old goat," said Darche, 32. "I used to tease the older guys when I was younger. Now I’m the one getting teased."

That Darche can laugh along with the rest of his pals reflects a value to Portland that goes far beyond stats.

Darche was third in scoring on the Pirates with 66 points (31-35) in 80 games. He expected those contributions to be far less, since he spent almost all of last year with Tampa Bay and signed on to be a Buffalo Sabres depth player in the offseason.

It didn’t work out that way, as Darche got no minutes in Buffalo and was surpassed on the priority chart by talented forwards such as Nathan Gerbe, Tim Kennedy and Mark Mancari.

"I didn’t sign with them to play in Portland. They had other plans for me than I thought they should have," Darche said of the Sabres. "I did what I had to do here. Whether you agree or not with the decision, you’re not helping yourself by not working hard."

Far from playing with his peers, Darche found himself landing on a team virtually from another generation. Portland dressed 19 rookies this season, and 15 of them remain on the roster heading into the playoffs.

Anyone who has seen Darche play knows the power forward is hard to move once he plants himself in front of the net. He’s been a similar — if somewhat laid back — stabilizing force in anchoring the dressing room.

"You always have to be careful. (Vets) are like, you should do this, you should do that," Darche said. "It’s not like I’ve ever been an All-Star in the NHL. I pride myself that I work hard day in and day out. The young guys right now are so skilled. There’s only so much you can say. You don’t want to sound like you know it all."

Check that. There is one thing that Darche will volunteer freely when it comes to upward ambition.

As the owner of a Calder Cup ring from the 2003-04 Milwaukee Admirals, he can vouch for the shine that winning puts on a player’s appeal.

"The more you win the more teams that want you," he said. "The collective success helps the individual, too. You look at every year, the guys who win the Calder Cup, a lot of them end up in the NHL. It doesn’t help anyone to not make the playoffs."