Think of him as the Dynamic Dual.
During his 13 years of competing at the highest level of professional hockey, Mathieu Dandenault was adept at playing either on the wing or on the blueline. The two-position role was a source of deep satisfaction for the classy, soft-spoken Frenchman, who was a contributor to Detroit’s Stanley Cup championships in 1997, 1998, and 2002 before moving on to his hometown Montreal.
“I take pride in being versatile,” he often said.
The Quebec native was the Red Wings’ second pick in the 1994 entry draft. After a year of seasoning in Andirondack, the speedy right winger joined the big club at the start of the 1995-96 season.
As a 19-year-old rookie, one of Dandenault’s biggest thrills was scoring on one of his childhood heroes, Montreal’s Patrick Roy. In fact, he did it three times in a span of four days, and the binge helped seal the malcontent netminder’s trade to Colorado. On November 28, 1995, his breakaway goal was the difference in the Wings’ 3-2 victory at The Joe.
“I was hyped,” Dandenault recalled. “I made eye contact with Steve Yzerman so he would give me the pass and send me along. Then, when I knew I was coming in on Roy, I hoped he would make the first move. He didn’t. I fanned on the shot. He missed it, it went in, and I was ecstatic.”
In a return match on December 2, Dandenault popped in a pair of goals in front of family and friends at Montreal. The Wings handed the Canadiens their worst-ever home loss, 11-1, and the angry and humiliated Roy swore he would never play for Montreal again. He was sent to Colorado, where a few months later he backstopped the Avalanche to the 1996 Stanley Cup.
Dandenault was not blessed with great hands, but Scotty Bowman, one of hockey’s great innovators, saw possibilities in his tremendous skating ability. “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. Scotty Bowman said he’d like me to try it and it kept me playing.”
Dandenault learned from the best. “I had really great mentors,” he said. “Paul Coffey, Nicklas Lidstrom and Vladimir Konstantinov. It was a talented group. They helped me out during my time there.” Assistant coach Dave Lewis also was “very good to me,” he said.
During the 2004 NHL lockout, Dandenault went to Italy to play for HC Asiago. When he returned as a free agent after the season, he disappointed Detroit fans by signing a four-year contract with Montreal. With the Canadiens, Dandenault continued to move easily between defense and forward, depending on the whims of the coach and the needs of the team. “I enjoy it,” he said. “It keeps my mind fresh.”
After leaving Montreal, Dandenault played a year with Hartford, the American Hockey League affiliate of the New York Rangers, then tried out with the San Jose Sharks. The free agent was cut just before the start of the 2009-10 season, causing him to finally retire from the grind of professional play. He left with 68 goals and 135 assists in 868 NHL games, three Stanley Cups with the Wings, and absolutely no regrets.
“It was a childhood dream to play in the NHL,” he said, “and having had the opportunity to play for two Original Six franchises made it even more special.”