Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Go Easy on Nathan Beaulieu

"Great moments are born from great opportunity." Herb Brooks famously gave this quote to the world during his pre-game speech to the American Miracle on Ice squad prior to their game against the Soviet Union (or so the movie tells us). The corollary, of course, is that horrible, embarrassing, scaring moments can also be born of great opportunities.

One such moment unfortunately occurred in last night's World Junior Championship semi-finals between Canada and Russia. Even more unfortunately, it involved a future Montreal Canadiens blueline stud. During the third period of what turned out to be an epic 20 minutes, with Canada down 5-1, Nathan Beaulieu loses the puck to a pressuring forward at the tail end of a Canadian powerplay, and then in trying to chop at the puck, chops the Russian's feet from under him instead, resulting in a delayed penalty call. Here's the video evidence (video begins at 3:31 mark):

The Canadians had played frustrated hockey for much of the night, shown in a late 2nd period undisciplined spear by Boone Jenner that cost him a 5 minute major and game misconduct, and a slamming of a stick on the boards by Jonathan Huberdeau after taking a penalty which forced him out of the game for 10 minutes. Beaulieu's giving up on the play and stopping to skate after taking the penalty is inexcusable. What happened there exactly? Of course he was upset. Perhaps he thought the whistle went. Perhaps he didn't realize there was a man coming out of the box which turned the play into a 2-on-1 (although it ended up being his man, the third skater, who tapped the puck in). Regardless, it was an error in a game that felt out of reach for most Canadians.

What happened after that was very nearly the most epic of comebacks, with Canada scoring 4 quick goals, leaving just that dreaded 6th marker to stand as the game-winner. Beaulieu, I'm sure, feels terrible about the play, not unlike Mikael Granlund of Team Finland who earlier in the day completely lost the puck on a shootout attempt on which he needed to score to keep his team alive.

The truth is, Habs fans, these things happen. Beaulieu at age 19 was considered one of the top 7 under 20 defensemen in the country to be selected to this team and performed reasonably well. The WJC is a huge stage, and though in the 7th d-man role Beaulieu didn't see that much ice, he looked smooth on the powerplay and confident with the puck. He took a few penalties that he will need to work out of his game, but overall showed lots of promise for the future, also demonstrating his toughness when returning to a game after taking a hard shot to the face.

This play will not define his career in any way, shape or form. Beaulieu, Montreal's first round pick last June, should sign a deal with the Habs some time between now and September and join the Hamilton Bulldogs in the Fall (given that he has a December birthday), moving up the ranks to become a pro. He won a Memorial Cup last year with the Saint John Sea Dogs, impressed at Canadiens training camp this Fall, could win a Bronze Medal at the WJC tomorrow, and then should have a good run at a second Memorial Cup on a stacked team before the season is done. Not a bad couple of seasons.

We just need to hope that the young man himself doesn't take this too hard and puts it out of his mind. Or, if anything, that he uses it as motivation not to give up on a play ever again. I'd imagine Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury doesn't go to sleep at night thinking about this moment any more:

So Nate, hang in there. Many great players go through tough adversity on their way to the top, so why should you be any different. If I'm Pierre Gauthier, I'd give Mr. Beaulieu's agent a call as soon as this tournament is over on Friday to talk about the inevitable contract. Might as well throw a positive the kid's way to help him get back on track. If you want to send Beaulieu some "Habs fans are all behind you!" thoughts of your own, you can Tweet at him at @n8theggr8.

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