12/20/2012 2:53 PM
Story By: Stuart McComish
HAMILTON, Ont. – December has been an offensive month for Hamilton Bulldogs defenceman Nathan Beaulieu.
Beaulieu, who earned two assists through the first 16 games of his rookie season in the American Hockey League, has recorded one goal and seven assists for eight points in as many games since the calendar turned to the final month of the year.
Beaulieu, who leads Bulldogs blueliners in scoring, picked up his first professional goal with one minute to go in regulation in a 4-3 road loss to the Chicago Wolves on December 13th, steaming to the net to fire home a loose puck at the lip of the crease after Mike Blunden and Brendan Gallagher had led a rush into Chicago territory.
“It has been a good month for me so far,” Beaulieu said Thursday after the Bulldogs wrapped up practice at Copps Coliseum. “I felt like I got my game back a little bit. I was struggling early on, I think I was trying to do too much. But I have been keeping it simple and offensively things have been a lot better.”
A first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft, Beaulieu contributed 37 goals and 115 assists for 152 points in 233 games over four seasons with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He said he had to work to gain the confidence to be an offensive contributor at the pro level.
“That was the biggest thing. Early on I was shy to make some plays and take the kind of opportunities I did in junior. Now I am not afraid to take the kind of chances I had before and it has paid off. I wasn’t confident enough to make the kinds of plays I had been used to making. I knew it would be a process, I just had to get my feet wet a little bit.”
Beaulieu leads Bulldogs defencemen with 49 shots on goal and is fifth on the team in that category.
“I’m old enough now to know when something isn’t right with my game,” said the resident of Strathroy, Ont, who turned 20 on December 5th. “If I feel like I am not shooting the puck enough I can take it upon myself to change that.
“There are no bad players or bad goalies at this level. Any time you are going in for an opportunity it’s going to be a battle. There are no easy goals in this league. A lot of guys told me how tough it was to score and get points in this league and that has been the case.”
The Bulldogs’ defence corps has been contributing on the scoresheet over the team’s last six games, recording three goals and 13 assists for 16 points. Rookie Jarred Tinordi scored his first professional goal in a 4-3 road loss to the Milwaukee Admirals last Saturday while veteran Mike Commodore, known for his defensive prowess, earned his first assist with the Bulldogs at Chicago.
“We have a little bit of everything back there,” said Beaulieu, the youngest member of a blueline group which numbers four 20-year-old rookies among its complement. “It’s a pretty solid core. We have guys like Tinordi and Commodore who are big, defensive guys that can chip in offensively and that can only help us.”
Beaulieu, six-feet-two and 194 pounds, has also been working hard on taking care of his own end of the rink.
“Early on it was tough. The guys here are bigger and faster, but you just have to adjust. Everyone here can play, it’s not like there are guys at this level who don’t belong so you don’t have those situations to take advantage of. You need to figure out your role and play it to the best of your ability.”
The Bulldogs have two home games remaining before their three-day Christmas break. The Bulldogs host the St. John’s IceCaps at 7:30 p.m. Friday and entertain the San Antonio Rampage at 7 p.m. Saturday. Both games can be seen on all Sportsnet regional channels.
“It will be nice to be home for a couple of days,” said Beaulieu. “It’s not a long time, but I am only an hour down the road. I am one of the fortunate ones. I know the guys who can’t go home will be looked after and they’ll be made to feel as much at home as they can.”
Beaulieu said he will also be following the progress of the Canadian national team as it competes at the World Junior Championship at Ufa, Russia beginning next Wednesday. Beaulieu spent last Christmas with the junior team, earning a bronze medal in the tournament held at Calgary and Edmonton.
“I know almost half the guys on the team and I have been talking to a lot of them. I wish them the best, I want them to bring the gold back to Canada. It was tough last year, but on paper they look like a really strong team. I think they have a really good shot.”