Meet the Wolves stay-at-home defenseman.
If you’ve flipped to this page and happen to play for an American Hockey League team other than the Chicago Wolves, we kindly ask you to stop reading now.
We’re about to give away some secrets about Wolves defenseman Mathieu Brodeur that we’d rather you not know. We want you to continue to view the 6-foot-5, 221-pound Brodeur as a menacing mountain of a blueliner. Fear his length. Fear his beard. Fear his willingness to play with no fear. That’s all you need to know. Nothing more to see here.
OK. Now that all AHL foes have closed this page and turned away, we can let the rest of you get to know the real Brodeur.
“Mathieu is a teddy bear,” said Wolves left wing Yannick Veilleux, who rooms with Brodeur on road trips and is a primary confidant as the only other player on the roster who speaks French.
“He’s a great roommate,” said Wolves center Rob Bordson, who shares an apartment with Brodeur in the northwest suburbs. “Very polite guy, very friendly to be around. This is 4-5 months into the season and we haven’t had an argument at the rink or at home. It’s pretty rare. His wife has been here a couple times and she’s a sweetheart too.”
“I’m a lucky girl because he’s a cuddler,” said Virginie Brodeur, who married Mathieu on Dec. 3, 2013, nearly seven years after they started dating as teenagers in Quebec. “Maybe you shouldn’t put that, but I don’t mind people knowing. We just like each other’s company. He truly is always happy.”
That last sentence isn’t exactly true. Veilleux can attest to that. When the Wolves visited Charlotte on Feb. 6, they were cruising to victory with a 4-0 lead and less than five minutes to go. But when the Wolves gave up a goal that ruined goaltender Jordan Binnington’s shutout, Brodeur came off the ice incensed.
“It was the first time I ever saw him getting mad, so I was trying not to laugh at him,” Veilleux said. “Because he’s a guy who always has a smile on his face, a guy who’s always positive.”
Let’s face it: When the world regards you as happy, positive, and cuddly – and that’s exactly how you come across — it’s hard to find enough conflict to make for a compelling story. But maybe it requires exactly that type of personality to make the difficult leap from French-speaking Quebec to English-speaking Illinois look graceful.
Brodeur grew up in suburban Montreal where he tried his hand at rodeo and played basketball through sixth grade (in part because his 6-foot-8 father, Daniel, competed for Team Quebec), but hockey became his passion.
When he was 16 and playing for the Laurentides Vikings in the Quebec Major AAA league (QMAAA), he was standing with his team captain after a game when two girls approached them. One was the captain’s girlfriend. The other was Virginie. The captain and the girlfriend introduced them offhandly.
“He didn’t say much,” Virginie remembered. “He was a pretty quiet guy. But his kindness is what affected me.”
This was way back in 2007, before texting and FaceTime became ubiquitous. Virginie, who was one year older, contacted Mathieu using one of those old-timey MSN chat rooms and they developed a friendship that way. Soon she asked him to dinner and the rest is history. March marks eight years of being together.
“She made all the first moves, I guess,” Mathieu recalled with a laugh.
Their relationship has survived long stretches of being apart while Mathieu pursues his hockey dreams. Months after they became a couple, he was drafted by Cape Breton in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. That meant Mathieu was 900 miles away in Nova Scotia. That meant Mathieu, who only spoke French prior to the QMJHL draft, had to learn English and learn to live far from his family at the same time.
His billet family spoke English and liked TV and movies. A combination of the three taught Brodeur the basics.
“ ‘American Pie’ helped me a lot,” he said with a smile. “I watched a lot of ‘King of Queens’ with my billet family. A lot of comedies, pretty much.”
Mathieu and Virginie stayed connected over the phone as she remained in Quebec. In 2011-12, Mathieu’s first full year in the AHL, Virginie joined him in Portland, Maine. He had four years of English under his belt. She had none. She made friends with the two other wives/girlfriends with the team and one of them knew a bit of French due to her husband, but communication wasn’t easy. Language is an imposing barrier that so many non-American players (and their significant others) must hurdle when they come to this country.
“I remember dinners where I wouldn’t say a word,” Virginie said. “I’d be trying to figure out what they were saying and by the time I did, they’d be talking about something else and it was too late to say something.”
But Virginie has picked up English to such a degree that Mathieu gushes that she speaks it better than he does – and he’s not simply being a proud husband. During a recent phone conversation, Virginie casually mentioned that she hadn’t spoken English in more than a year – which seemed impossible considering she talked flawlessly and with barely a trace of an accent.
She hadn’t spoken English in such a long time because, after spending the last two years with Mathieu in Portland, they decided that she wouldn’t accompany him to Chicago for this season.
Virginie is an event planner for a catering company and lives in the couple’s condo in Mascouche, Quebec, which is 20 miles north of Montreal. When they made the rational decision for her to continue working, they miscalculated how hard it would feel to be apart.
Virginie visited for two weeks in December and Mathieu went home for a few days over Christmas and during the All-Star Break, but it hasn’t been sufficient.
“It’s not easy having your significant other not be with you,” said Virginie, who settles for the company of their dog, Jackson.
“It’s harder than we thought,” Mathieu said. “I just miss her presence. I miss being on our couch watching TV together.”
They connect by going on FaceTime and chatting in French…just like they did when they became a couple. In a perfect world, the Wolves’ stay-at-home defenseman and his wife will get to stay in the same home next season.
“Next year she’s going to come back with me,” Mathieu said.