By Adam Brady
It's safe to say the last two years have been the best of Francois Beauchemin's life. "I would definitely say that," says the soft-spoken French-Canadian.
Two years ago, Beauchemin married his wife, Marie, right around the time he signed his first NHL contract. A year later, he was playing in the NHL with Columbus after toiling in the minor leagues for half a decade. But after struggling for ice time with the Blue Jackets in the early part of last season, he was traded to Anaheim in November in a move that redefined his career. Soon he was playing alongside Scott Niedermayer, helping to anchor the team's defense and ranking second on the Ducks (behind Niedermayer) in time on ice. The guy teammates call "Franky" was also a major player in the Ducks' run through to the Western Conference Finals.
Things got even better at season's end, when Marie gave birth to their first child, Samuel, in July. That same month, the Ducks acquired Chris Pronger in a blockbuster deal, and Beauchemin's role on the Ducks defense was largely forgotten amid the hoopla surrounding the union of Pronger with Scott Niedermayer. But a month later, the Ducks signed Beauchemin to a lucrative two-year contract extension, sending him the message they want him here for the long haul.
"The last couple of years, there has always been some good news," says the 26-year-old Beauchemin (pronounced BOH-shuh-may). "It's been unbelievable and I hope it can continue the same way. For them to add two more years to my contract, it's good for me and my family, knowing we'll be here for a while. I did some good things last year and in the playoffs, and they told me they were happy about the way I played and that's why they wanted to give me an extension."
Beauchemin has started this season just as effectively, pairing with Niedermayer on defense and penalty-killing situations like he did most of last year. He shined in that role, scoring 34 points in 61 games with the Ducks and leading all NHL rookie defensemen with nine points in the playoffs.
But numbers can hardly define the huge roll Beauchemin played in the Ducks' first-round upset of Calgary. Early into Game 6 at Honda Center, Beauchemin was on the winning end of a scrap with Flames captain Jarome Iginla, who had been tormenting the Ducks up to that point.
"He asked me to fight and I dropped the gloves," said Beauchemin. "I knew I had to do that, take him out of the game for five minutes. He was having a good series to that point and I wanted to give our team a better chance."
Iginla had five goals and three assists in the first five games of the series. After the fight, he had none. Teemu Selanne later called it the "turning point" of a series the Ducks eventually won in Game 7 in Calgary. And although those playoffs ended with a disappointing five-game loss to Edmonton in the Conference Finals, Beauchemin's focus soon turned to becoming a father for the first time.
"That has been really exciting," Beauchemin says. "And every day it seems like something changes with him. He's more alert and he makes different sounds. When get home and see him and he's laughing or when he wakes up in the mornings, just seeing him smile, it really makes you stop thinking about hockey for a little while."
But when Beauchemin's focus is on hockey, it revolves around fine-tuning his game and continuing to earn the faith the Ducks have put in him. "I'm just trying to improve little details, being more patient, making the right plays at the right time, not throwing the puck away," Beauchemin says. "There are always things you can improve on."
Beauchemin knows that constant desire to get better is vital for the Ducks to live up to the expectations put on them this season.
"We're being talked about as one of the teams in the NHL that could win the Cup this year, which is nice, but it's all talk," Beauchemin says. "We've got to do it on the ice. It puts a lot of pressure on us, but it's good because we're expecting big things too."
And more of that "good news" is on the horizon for Beauchemin. He and Marie are looking into buying house in the coming months (the two are currently renting a home in Tustin). Even he couldn't have predicted that after years of playing minor-league hockey in towns like Quebec City, Biloxi, Mississippi; Hamilton, Ontario and Syracuse, New York, he'd be house-hunting in sunny Southern California with a three-year NHL contract in his back pocket
"I'm enjoying this and I always love coming to the rink," Beauchemin says. "And it's especially great here with the nice weather and everything else. I feel lucky to be here every day."
This article appears in the latest edition of Ducks Digest, the official game day magazine of the Anaheim Ducks. Pick up a free Ducks Digest at all Ducks games at Honda Center.