MONTREAL, QC — Two minutes 43 seconds; that was the extent of goalie Mathieu Chouinard‘s career in the National Hockey League. The former Ottawa Senators first round pick in 1998 retired in 2006.
“The big dark period of my life is over, but I’m still trying to get over it. You have to live with it, but accepting it is another thing.”
The former goalie is the first to admit it; quitting pro hockey was a personal choice. According to him, if he hadn’t been traded from the Phoenix Roadrunners to the Bakersfield Condors during the holidays in 2006, he might have stayed saying “I didn’t want to be a part of that anymore, moving around, not having a house of my own or a family.” Money, it seems, wasn’t a factor in his decision. “To turn my back on this money was a hint of how unhappy I was. I was tired and I decided to move on. I had an hockey overdose.”
Nonetheless, the most difficult part of his decision was to come back to real life and understand that the dollars weren’t coming in like before. “When you’re playing hockey, everyone loves you. Yeah, my name is kind of known, but I was living in my own world, I was going to my cabin every weekend. I guess I don’t have as many contacts as a guy that might have played 10 years in the NHL.” Mathieu Chouinard’s entourage seems to be intact, and he still has some friends who are in the NHL, like Pittsburgh Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis.
He finds it difficult to form an opinion on the help the NHLPA offers to retired players because of his short stint in the league, but he can talk about the PHPA – the ECHL and AHL support system. “At least once per year, I met with someone from the PHPA, and they would talk about after career plans, pension plans and correspondence courses. At the same time, when you are 22, you aren’t in that place, and education isn’t really in the hockey culture.”
According to him, the start of his career wasn’t really what he had expected, and maybe he didn’t have the right attitude back then. Today, when he thinks about it, he would have liked to have a better education and guidance, but deep down he knows that everything was different at the time.
The former goalie worked four years in an environment that didn’t involve hockey at all, a 9 to 5 job. “It’s hard to say this, but I stopped hockey because I didn’t love the game anymore. Easier to say than to understand, especially for people who have worked their entire life to play there. But, I was so tired, and I said to myself : Stop and do something you love….I finally ended up with something I didn’t love any more.” After that, he joined A.L Collections and was a freelance sports writer at “Nord Info” for two years.
After years spent away from the game, hockey came back in his life when he got an opportunity in collegiate coaching. “At first, I didn’t want it to become a job.” Gaining experience, the Laval native is now a head coach and has been affiliated with Nordiques du Collège Lionel-Groulx for three years. “I finally realized that I had more background and hockey knowledge than I thought even if I was a goalie.” And does the man love being behind the bench more than being on the ice after all? “Maybe. I realized that being away doesn’t change anything, I came back to hockey 100 percent again last year.”
Today, even if Mathieu Chouinard hasn’t totally made peace with his past, he is doing well. “When I stopped, it was so hard mentally. Now, it’s okay, I have my girlfriend, a family, it isn’t the same for everyone. I think I could have had a depression if things stayed the way they were.” Not a day goes by without someone talking to him about his playing career, and perhaps there lies the inability to completely move on. “Everyone is asking questions, you have to deal with it, this weight that you were there, and aren’t there anymore, and why, why didn’t you prove that you were the best in the world longer.”
Sometimes, maybe because of his coaching position at a school, he asks himself if his life would have been different with a better education and greater supervision but deep down he knows that “[he would] not have seen the difference back then.” Would he want to change anything? “Yeah, absolutely, some things that were there before I planned to play hockey, but it’s a part of who I am, and I wouldn’t have found the happiness and love I have with my girlfriend now.”
His remedy? “To be a part of something, to be the best in my coaching and show the kids that they have lot of possibilities to pursue their goal.” Seven years later, he knows he made this choice to be happy, and wishes that someday he will be okay with all that happened. For now, he is able to live with it and tries to “get there, one step at time.”