10/11/2012 9:33 AM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – Nathan Beaulieu enjoyed massive success during his major junior career, but he admits there will be a learning curve as he makes the jump to the professional ranks.
Defenceman Beaulieu, chosen 17th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft, spent four seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior League, winning two league championships and the 2011 Memorial Cup.
A 6’2”, 190-pound resident of Strathroy, Ont., Beaulieu is set to embark on his pro career with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.
“It’s going to be tough,” Beaulieu said after the Bulldogs wrapped up a recent practice at Copps Coliseum. “I was on championship teams in Saint John so it will be difficult playing in a league I am unfamiliar with. Right now I don’t know who the teams are to beat, who the guys are to watch, I can just try and bring what I learned playing for a successful team like Saint John and help the Bulldogs win as many games as we can.
“There will be a lot of NHL players sent down to the AHL this season and that’ll give me an opportunity to learn and grow a bit before I take that next step.”
Beaulieu, who turns 20 on December 5th, is among the younger players on the roster for the Bulldogs, who open the regular season at 7 p.m. Saturday with a visit to the Grand Rapids Griffins.
“Being a late birthday, I was usually the younger guy so it’s not that unfamiliar to me. In Saint John I was there four years and was one of the older guys much of time so it’s a little different being one of the younger guys. I like it and I am up for the challenge.
“There are still a lot of young guys here like Michael Bournival, Brendan Gallagher and Jarred Tinordi. It’s good to see the older guys here who have been pros for a while. It helps to watch how they conduct themselves on and off the ice. The young guys help me remember I am still a kid, but it’s great to have the older guys to learn from.”
Beaulieu saw his first pro action last Saturday as the Bulldogs dropped a 3-1 decision to the Toronto Marlies in a neutral-site preseason game at Cobourg, Ontario
“It was fun. The guys are faster and stronger than what I faced in junior so I will have to adapt to that. I thought it was a good game, it was fun to get that first pro game under my belt.”
Beaulieu got an early taste of life in the junior ranks through his father Jacques, who was a longtime assistant coach of the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. The Knights captured their first OHL championship and Memorial Cup in 2004-2005 with one of most dominant junior teams in history and that group made quite an impression on 12-year-old Nathan.
“I still talk to a lot of guys from that team and I train and skate with some of them in the summer. I remember being at the final game of the Memorial Cup and what it was like in the dressing room after the game. I still keep in touch with guys like Corey Perry, Rob Schremp and Brandon Prust and they have helped me out a lot.”
Jacques Beaulieu relocated his family to Saint John, New Brunswick in 2006 to take over as the Sea Dogs’ head coach and later also became the club’s general manager. Nathan played at the bantam and midget levels in New Brunswick and was chosen by the Sea Dogs in fourth round, 68th overall, of the 2008 QMJHL Entry Draft.
The elder Beaulieu was relieved of his duties after the 2008-2009 season and returned to Ontario, eventually becoming the general manager and head coach of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. Nathan remained with the Sea Dogs and went on to play 233 games for the club, recording 37 goals and 115 assists for 152 points. He added 12 goals and 36 assists for 48 points in 61 playoffs games for the Sea Dogs, who won three consecutive QMJHL regular-season titles. Beaulieu was named to the QMJHL’s second all-star team and was a finalist for the league’s top defenceman award in 2011-2012.
The 2010-2011 Sea Dogs became the first team from Atlantic Canada to win the Memorial Cup when they defeated the host team, the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors of the OHL, 3-1 in the final. Beaulieu recorded the winning goal in the Sea Dogs’ opening game, a 4-3 win over the Majors, and was named to the tournament all-star team.
A repeat was not in the cards the following year at Shawinigan, Que. The Sea Dogs lost their first game, dropping a 5-3 decision to the London Knights, champions of the OHL, and were eventually ousted in the semifinal, losing 7-4 to the host Shawinigan Cataractes.
“I think we were too relaxed and having won it the year before I think we thought it would be a little easier than it was. We got off to a slow start against London and never really recovered. We should have been a lot better and if you aren’t as prepared as you should be sometimes that’s what happens.”
Beaulieu squared off in that tournament against Bournival and fellow Bulldogs teammate Morgan Ellis, who starred for the Cataractes, and Tinordi, captain of the Knights.
“I’ve know Morgan for a while and have played against him for years and Jarred is a buddy, we both live in the London area and train there,” said Beaulieu. “There is some friendly competition among the guys and I think it made us all better players. They always say junior hockey is four or five of the best years of your life and it’s pretty neat to be able to share the same kinds of experiences with other guys here.”
Earlier in the season Beaulieu joined Bournival and Gallagher on the Canadian team that participated in the World Junior Championship in Calgary and Edmonton. Beaulieu earned one assist in six games for the Canadians who claimed the bronze medal with a 4-0 win over Finland after losing 6-5 to Russia in a semifinal.
“You try not to think about it,” said Beaulieu of the loss against the Russians, which saw the Canadians down 5-1 after two periods. “For the first week or so after the tournament you let it eat you up a little bit, but you can’t keep thinking about it. It was a heartbreaker because we knew we could have won that tournament. But that’s what happens in a tournament like that, if we played a series against every team in that tournament I think we would have won. But in a short tournament like that it’s anybody’s game.”