If you're a relatively modern Senators fan or your memory is a little fuzzy, chances are you might not be entirely familiar with the name or story of Mathieu Chouinard.
Mathieu was drafted by the Ottawa Senators with the 15th overall pick in the 1998 draft. Unfortunately for all of the parties involved, Chouinard and the Senators were unable to reach a contract agreement and he had to re-enter the 2000 draft. In some roundabout way, Chouinard was selected again by the Senators in the second round of the draft.
Obviously things didn't work out the way that the organization or Mathieu had planned but as a fan, I never truly understood how the relationship between the two parties deteriorated. You see, since the bulk of Mathieu's playing days occurred in an era in which information didn't spread quickly around the Interwebs and we actually had to rely upon the traditional media to get our news, I never was truly aware of the rationale behind what had actually transpired. But thanks to the powers of the Interwebs, I came across Mathieu on Twitter (@chouine) and thankfully, he agreed to take some time to answer some questions for the website.
Throughout this process, Mathieu was very accommodating and I'd just like to thank him again for taking the time to tell his side of the story. If you haven't already, I highly recommend following Mathieu on Twitter and checking out his new business, a sports memoribilia store in Montreal called A.L. Collections Inc. (Note: You can also follow @AL_collections on Twitter.)
Hopefully you readers will enjoy the interview...
Question: Looking back at your time during the CHL, you put up some impressive junior numbers in the QJMHL (a career record of 104-64-13) and won the Michel Briere Trophy – awarded to the Q’s Most Valuable Player -- for the 1998-99 season. Was this your favourite junior accomplishment?
As an individual achievement, I’d say winning the MVP was at the top of the list. Winning the gold at the under 18 with team Canada was also a great feeling as far as a team accomplishment.
Question: Do you have any other favourite CHL stories that you would like to share with our readers?
Man, I have so many! One that really stands out was losing to Drummondville and to one of my best friends -- Simon Poirier -- who we dealt from Shawinigan to the Voltigeurs during my last playoff run. It was really hard for me.
Question: Ottawa had a reputation for its strong drafts and that had taken its time before drafting a goaltending prospect early in the draft, so when Ottawa selected you in the first round with the 15th overall pick of the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, analysts and the media pegged you as an important cog of their future. Did being the first high profile goaltending prospect selected by the organization mean anything to you at the time?
Not really. When you are young, things go by so fast. All I knew was that some older goalies were in the system and I wanted to crack that line-up as quickly as possible. I still think that if I would of been giving the chance to play in the NHL in 1999 (like Mike Fisher), I would still be in the NHL today.
Question: What were your memories from the day of the draft and when you first heard your name called? How did it feel to be drafted by the Senators?
It didn't really matter to me which organization drafted me: whether it was Ottawa or Nashville, it would have been the same for me. Once you hear your name, everything goes black. After that you just go with the flow and try to enjoy it as much as you can.
Question: After being drafted by Ottawa, how would you describe your relationship and initial contract discussions with management?
Things were great right off the bat but the situation changed as soon as the GM’s started changing every year…
Question: Eventually Pierre Gauthier, the GM that drafted you left the Senators organization and was replaced by Rick Dudley, when this change happened, was there ever any optimism that a deal could be reached?
Actually, Dudley left before Ottawa started negotiating with me. Marshall Johnson was working as a GM when I signed, well, when they didn’t give me a choice but to sign!
Question: At what point (and how) did your relationship with the Senators deteriorate badly enough for you to say, “Screw it. I’m going to re-enter the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.” ?
I knew I would re-enter when they offered their one and only offer one week before the contract deadline without ever negotiating.
Question: How much did it bother you when you found out that Senators had drafted you again in the second round (45th overall)? Did you have any regrets about not coming to terms with Ottawa before re-entering?
I punched a hole in the wall, that’s how I reacted. They never told me they were going to pull that stunt. Every other team in the league was aware of it though…
Question: What was your first NHL training camp like? Any memorable characters or experiences?
All I can remember is being exhausted after every day. Not from the working out, but from all the mental work and stress. I remember going to bed at 8pm at night because of beeing so tired mentally. Pre-season games were also awesome.
Question: In your first two professional seasons (2000-01 and 2001-02), you split duties with Mike Fountain and Martin Prusek - ultimately winning the Harry “Hap” Holmes Award during the 2001-02 season that is awarded to the goaltenders of the AHL team with the lowest GAA. At the time and with expectations that you were Ottawa’s goaltender of the future, did it bother you to share the goaltending duties with these veterans? Or did you want to be “the man” right from the get go?
After a very good first pro season, I was told by Ottawa that I was going to be #1 the next season. Bruce Cassidy, my coach in Grand Rapids, had other plans.
Question: In doing some research for this Q&A, I came across a few publications (The Sports Forecaster, Hockey’s Future) that said that you were one of the most talented goaltenders that was ever part of the Senators organization but they also questioned your work ethic. How would you respond to that comment? And in retrospect, do you find these assessments fair or unfair?
In my career, I never had to work hard during practices to be good during games. When turning pro, I realised that I had to put more work into it. Sometimes, when a player is not as mature as the others, this player might need some help or support. Nobody in the organization helped me and I had no support from the coaching staff in Grand Rapids. They wanted only one thing: to win and coach in the NHL as soon as possible. I don’t blame everybody else. If I could, I would go back and changed some things. I know what I did wrong, but then again, I’ve seen a lot of worse things in my career. Believe me!
Question: You signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings in the summer of 2003. Why did you and the Senators part ways? Was there any resentment towards the organization when you left? Or were you excited to get a fresh start with the Kings?
John Muckler was the GM at that time. He had no clue who I was. It was my shortest training camp in my 4 years of being in the system. Muckler didn’t even want to send me to the AHL. He wanted me to go straight to the ECHL. For him, Emery was the guy. He was #1 in Binghamton before he got there. With L.A, I was just excited about getting a fresh start.
Question: Eventually you did get an opportunity to play in the NHL and made your debut on February 29th, 2004. I suppose you’re a rarity in that not many goaltenders can say that they’ve stopped every shot that they’ve faced at the NHL level. What were your memories of that night?
I flew my parents for the week-end because I had a feeling something could happen. It was one of the best feelings ever! It’s just too bad I never got the chance to start, especially with a team that wasn’t playoff bound.
Question: When looking back at your professional career, do you have any regrets?
I have regrets looking at my pro career as well as in my life. Just like every other human being. But life goes on.
Question: What are you doing now that your playing career is over?
I’m co-owner of a memorabilia company based in Montreal called A.L. Collections Inc.
- Worst city that you’ve ever had to visit while playing hockey? Johnston in the ECHL
- What is the worst song that you hear in NHL arenas? Cotton Eye Joe
- What is the best locker room prank that you’ve seen? Sewing Chris Neil’s pants shut.
- What is the most popular sports memorabilia that you sell? The Montreal Canadiens legends like Lafleur, Richard and Béliveau. They are always popular.
- Did Martin Prusek have the ugliest mask that you’ve ever seen? Worst gear bar none! First time I saw him on the ice, he looked like a guy who just picked up goalie gear at the pro shop!
- What is your Stanley Cup prediction? Vancouver in 6