MONTREAL – Heading into the offseason, downtime wasn’t necessarily atop Nathan Beaulieu’s priority list.
Coming off a breakout campaign in 2014-15, the 22-year-old defenseman couldn’t wait to get back to work in Southwestern Ontario to continue building on a successful year that saw him steadily become a mainstay on the Canadiens’ blue line after spending the majority of the previous two seasons honing his game in Hamilton.
“I took a little time off after the playoffs. My dad and I went on a fishing trip up in Northern Ontario. That’s where he’s from, so he’s got a lot of family and friends there. That’s about it, though. Basically, I got right back in the gym with my trainer, Dave Henry. He owns a CrossFit gym in London,” offered Beaulieu, who amassed one goal, nine points and a plus-6 differential in 64 regular season games last year, while averaging 15:42 of ice time during that span. “I’ve been doing a lot of the same things as before, but my focus has really been on building more lower-body strength and getting bigger. I’ve already gained like five pounds of muscle, so I’m over 200 pounds. It’s been a very good summer fitness-wise. CrossFit is a very demanding workout, so it really gets you in shape.”
Back on the ice for some time now, Beaulieu has been skating at Budweiser Gardens in the heart of downtown London with a rather notable group of NHLers, including Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Corey Perry, David Bolland, Logan Couture, and former Habs forward, Brandon Prust.
“It’s probably the best skate you can get around town. I could go on forever with the names of guys in our group. I’ve always been a big believer in not staying away from the ice for too long. Now, it’s really starting to ramp up, especially over the last couple of weeks. I’m out there almost every day for 90 minutes. We split the groups up into teams and scrimmage. It’s good,” shared Beaulieu, who is committed to making the most of every on-ice session ahead of returning to Montreal at some point in the next few weeks. “I’m just trying to transfer over what I’m doing in the gym and make my lower-body stronger. Skating is such a big part of the game. I even worked out with Gally for a week earlier in the month in Vancouver. He had a skills coach there, so we were basically working on everything together.”
The Strathroy, ON native’s demanding training schedule, however, hasn’t stopped him from making every effort to partake in a host of charity events around the country, including one in his own backyard at the Forest City’s Western Fair Sports Centre on August 16th.
“My event [the NHL Celebrity Hockey Game] was held for a girl I grew up with in my hometown, Megan Woodiwiss. She was in a bad accident back in February, and her family needed help. We tried to raise some money, so it’s all for a good cause. She’s just a bit younger than me, but our families know each other well. It kind of hit home when it happened to her,” mentioned Beaulieu, whose event ultimately raised $60,000 for Woodiwiss and her family to help with her recovery. “It was awesome to see the community come out and support Megan. Gally, Ticker and Devante made it out to play in the game. My parents, their friends and all the volunteers really put a lot of work into it, and it was a success. Hockey players are in a unique position when it comes to things like this, so it was good to be able to give back.”
Now, Beaulieu has his sights set on using everything he learned last year to his advantage come training camp and on into the 2015-16 season.
“It was definitely a big coming out year for me. I got to think about it a little bit but I didn’t want to think about it too much. I know there are a lot of things that need to be improved upon and I need to take an even bigger step. I’ve just got to prove that I’m able to do it and I need to earn it. I know I can give a lot more. I’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity,” explained Beaulieu, who signed a brand new two-year contract with the Canadiens on June 13th. “The contract was a big vote of confidence. I’m excited for the opportunity to showcase my talents and hopefully help the team going forward.”
While his veteran defense partner – and mentor – Sergei Gonchar won’t be sporting the bleu-blanc-rouge on October 7 in Toronto, Beaulieu is adamant there are plenty of good role models for him to keep looking to for advice and guidance both on the back end and up front, too.
“We’ve got a great, great core of defensemen back there. It’s a special group. But, we’ve also got special forwards, too. I kept in contact with a lot of guys over the summer. Max Pacioretty has been huge for me. We’ve had a lot of conversations. He’s a very modest and very honest person. He’s always there if you want to talk. He might not be that much older than me, but I really look up to him and his maturity. He’s already dominated in the league at such a young age,” praised Beaulieu, who has long been impressed by Pacioretty’s ability to overcome any and all obstacles in his way. “He’s gone through some of the toughest adversity you could ever have gone through. Just look at all the things that have happened in his career. He’s been through it all. That makes him an easy guy to talk to about different situations.”
With teammates like that, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Beaulieu is counting down the days until he can lace up his skates for real and battle alongside his hockey brothers.
“I’m excited to play hockey again and be a part of a team. When you go home for the summer, you have your buddies, but it’s not the same as going to the rink every day and seeing the group of guys you played with the night before. I just miss the team aspect. I’m excited to see all of the guys,” concluded Beaulieu. “We’re just so full of energy and full of life. We’re a fun group. We’re fast and we’re dynamic. The guys in the room all believe in our system, our staff and our process. I know they’re all as excited as I am.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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