To figure out why Mathieu Curadeau is such a well-rounded player, you need only to look at his past.
As a youngster, his speed and playmaking ability made him one of the highest-scoring players on his teams. When he left to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2002, though, his coaches saw that he had the intelligence to defend some of the best players in the world – including Sidney Crosby – and for four years in the QMJHL he was a defensive forward.
To play defensively, you dont need the talent, you need the desire to be good in your own zone and to respect the systems, Curadeau said. I was on the third line for all of my junior career, and they asked me to be good defensively.
When Curadeau joined the Komets in 2007, coach Al Sims saw a multifaceted player who hadnt been given the chance to shine on offense for far too long.
Al gave me back my confidence, offensively, Curadeau said. He told me I could play at both ends of the ice at this level.
As a rookie, Curadeau had 34 goals and 59 points in 70 regular-season games, and four goals and seven points in 13 playoff games, as the Komets won the IHLs Turner Cup. He also helped the Komets to the 2009 Turner Cup. His efforts put him on the map with higher-level teams.
He has played 25 games in the American Hockey League with Worcester, Hamilton and Norfolk over the past three years, and he spent the bulk of last season with Kalamazoo of the AA-level ECHL.
After winning three straight IHL championships, last summer the Komets were among four teams absorbed by the Central Hockey League. For a time, though, the excitement was tempered by Colin Chaulks announcement that he would leave Fort Wayne to play in Italy.
That left the Komets with a void. They were in need of a top-line center who could score, defend and be a leader, and their first call was to Curadeau.
We know him as a player and as a person, general manager David Franke said. He will come in and be the No. 1-line center. I expect him to relish that job.
We know what Mathieu is all about, on and off the ice. Youre never going to totally replace Colin Chaulk, but Mathieu was as good a player as there was out there.
Curadeau isnt daunted by the task at hand, fronting the Komets in their move from the seven-team IHL to the 18-team CHL and being counted on to lead every statistical category.
But its the category that cant be measured – leadership – that will define his second tenure with the Komets. Curadeau spent half of last season as an assistant captain in Kalamazoo and noted that he is, historically, at his best when the pressure is highest.
I have always been that kind of player, he said. Even when I was younger, everybody was telling me that I was at my best in tournaments and in the playoffs. When the games get more exciting and more important, I like to play my best hockey. And when I have to stand up for myself and say something, Ive always been there to back up my words, for sure.
Curadeau stood up for himself in 2009. After suffering a cheap shot in a loss to Kalamazoo, Curadeau called out one of the Wings star players, Lucas Drake, saying he cant even skate and is terrible.
Two nights later, Curadeau knew he had to back up his words. He jumped Drake early to avenge the slash, then scored two goals, including the overtime game-winner.
Reminded of that game, Curadeau chuckled. He knows there are some things he did wrong – the major penalty for jumping Drake, for example – but a lot he did right.
I think Im wiser now, he said. Especially in my first season with Fort Wayne, you know I wanted to prove a lot and was on the run more. I do like to finish my checks, though, and Im still competitive.
And I love to win. At the same time, I know you have to make good decisions to help your team.
The Komets wanted Curadeaus fieriness again heading into a league noted for its physical play and its speed.
Mathieu is real competitive, Franke said. He takes the game very seriously. He takes his performance every night very seriously. Having been here before, it wont take him long to get readjusted and thats a positive. Hell get the job done. Hes done it before.
Its a situation with Mathieu – the cream rises to the top.