In the final moments of the pregame fanfare – once the hype videos have been played, the starters introduced and the anthems sung – you’ll notice his gaze is fixed on one thing: his stick.
“I’ve been writing stuff on my stick kind of my whole career,” Duchene said. “So I always have something different for each year to kind of set a tone or something that kind of relates to where I am in my life. I’m an artistic guy, and this is kind of how I express that a little bit during the game. My stick is my tool, so I just want to keep the stuff that is important to me in my mind when I’m doing what I love.”
There’s more to Duchene’s stick than initially meets the eye, and the veteran forward took some time after practice this week to explain each meaningful element in his own words.
The first thing you’ll likely notice about Duchene’s stick is the guitar strings and music notes on the handle. If you know anything about Dutchy, you know he has an affinity – and talent – for country music; so naturally, when he became a free agent in 2019, he jumped at the opportunity to continue his NHL career in the Music City.
“CCM made [the guitar stick] for me for the Winter Classic in my first year in Nashville, and they let me keep the graphic because it’s obviously great,” Duchene said. “Obviously, as a guy who plays guitar and loves music, it’s pretty cool to kind of combine two of my passions into one.”
The Guitar Picks
About halfway down the shaft, next to the CCM logo, are the outlines of three guitar picks. Inside each pick is a different set of initials: “BR,” “NJ” and “DH.” The first two have jersey numbers; the last one does not.
The three picks represent individuals in Duchene’s life who passed away within three years of one another. The two with jersey numbers were ex-teammates of Duchene’s, while the third was a young boy from his hometown of Haliburton, Ont., who passed away from cancer at age 10 and asked to be buried in Duchene’s jersey.
“I keep those guys with me all the time,” Duchene said.
It’s no secret that the catfish has become somewhat of a cultural icon for hockey in Nashville. But for Duchene, an avid fisherman, it means a little bit more.
“That’s kind of the logo that was designed for me when I first signed here, obviously loving to fish,” Duchene said.
If you look closely at the catfish on Duchene’s stick handle, its eye is actually a hockey puck. Inside the puck? Duchene’s jersey No. 95.
The Song Lyric
As if CCM hadn’t done a good enough job personalizing Duchene’s stick for him, he takes it upon himself to scribble a few additional details of his own onto the shaft tape. The first, unsurprisingly, is another nod to country music.
“Every year I do a song title or lyric that I kind of relate to and that kind of sets a tone or a mindset for me for the season,” Duchene said. “This year it’s ‘THE CROW’ – it’s from the HARDY song the mockingbird & THE CROW. Some of those lyrics I really related with and that’s a song that kind of gets me jacked up.”
The Bible Verse
A devout Christian, Duchene always carries a reminder of his faith and the role it plays in his life. Hand-written on the shaft tape of his stick is “Philippians 4:13,” a Bible verse he also has tattooed on his arm. The verse reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“I think it just reminds me that no matter what I’m doing or what I’m going through, I can get through it through Him,” Duchene said.
Duchene began writing personal reminders on his stick when he was a teenager – a period of his life he immortalizes on his stick more than a decade later with the phrase “F&L 16.”
“IIs just to remind myself to play like when I was 16,” Duchene said. “Just love the game; enjoy it. Be free and loose. I read these after the anthem and even during the game. It’s just some mental cues and reminders. I’m very into the mental side of the game.”
Beau, Jaymes & B.D. 3
Prominently featured on Duchene’s stick tape are the names of his children: son Beau, daughter Jaymes and “B.D. 3,” representing “Baby Duchene No. 3” due later this year. Duchene’s wife, Ashley, is pregnant with the couple’s third child, who is expected to be born around Christmas. They already know the baby’s sex and have a few names picked out, but Duchene is keeping those details close to his chest for now.
“Once the baby is born, ‘B.D. 3’ will be replaced with something else,” he said with a coy smile.
While he has carried over these key design elements from year to year, Duchene’s stick hasn’t always looked – or measured – the same.
“Before the COVID year, I lengthened it like a third of an inch,” he said. “Then I got hurt, and I added two inches to it. That summer I added another inch, so I’m three and a third inches longer than I was when I started in Nashville. And that’s just something that some personal coaches urged me to try. The game changes all the time; you have to find to adapt. I felt like early in my career, the shorter stick helped me. Then, as time went on, the game changed – the game’s gotten faster so you need more of a reach, more leverage. It helps you get your head up more and it’s more effortless to shoot, so I found it really helped me shooting in the last year. It’s been a really good change for me.”
A really good change, indeed – Duchene had a massive breakout season in 2021-22, when he became the franchise’s single-season record holder with 43 goals. Even coming off a career year, though, Duchene is nothing if not a man of the people. He can often be seen tossing pucks and sticks over the glass to fans during warmups before games – which begs the question: does he give away his custom guitar sticks?
“Oh yeah,” Duchene said. “When people have signs and stuff, I love that. I value people that want some of that, especially if I see a kid that wants a stick. I don’t give away brand new ones, though. I give them the ones that I’ve been using.”
This begs a second question: between practices, games and gifts to fans, roughly how many sticks does Duchene go through in a given season?
“They’re so light now that they get soft and they kind of get worn out a little quicker,” he said. “I used to use a stick till it broke because the way they used to be made, they were a little stiffer and stronger. I don’t know how many I go through – maybe 25 at the most.”
So if you or someone you know is ever fortunate enough to be the recipient of a custom Matt Duchene stick, know that it’s not merely a tool of the trade; it’s the story of a man’s career, his life – and a reminder to always face the music.