Less than four months after having reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee, there was Francois Beauchemin on skates with the rest of the Ducks for the first day of on-ice training camp.
That in itself was impressive, but it became astonishing when the group of exhausted players who skated in the day’s second one-hour session headed to the locker room – and Beauchemin stayed out there for another go-round. (Every other player took part in just one session for the day.)
“My knee felt pretty good after the first session, so I just decided to stay for a little extra and see how I felt,” Beauchemin said matter-of-factly. “It’s just more ice time and getting the tempo and the rhythm going.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau just shook his head when he saw the 33-year-old Beauchemin out there for the next session. “That was on his own,” Boudreau said afterward. “It’s a testament to him that he’s even doing anything at this stage. But again, he’s been told by the doctors that he knows his body very well and he can do what he wants.”
The extra skating Boudreau could accept. What he couldn’t abide by was the moment when Beauchemin -- who has been asked to avoid contact in practice for the time being – stopped Emerson Etem in his tracks with a hip check during one-on-one drills.
“When I hit Emerson, I’m not supposed to do contact, so [Bruce] said, ‘Okay, back off. Back off.’”
Then he smiled and added, “But I wasn’t just going to let him beat me wide.”
It’s yet another testament to Beauchemin’s toughness, something that has been a hallmark of his career in the NHL – notably last year when he had arguably his best season. The 33-year-old defenseman appeared in all 48 games for the Ducks in 2012-13, earning 24 points and a +19 rating, earning second team All-NHL honors.
He injured his knee in an early April game against Dallas at Honda Center, but played through it for another month and a half – including the rest of the regular season and a grueling seven-game playoff series with Detroit.
That’s partly why he was surprised when he was told by a doctor that it was a torn ACL, the same injury he suffered on the other knee in November of 2008 (which kept him out 4 ½ months).
|“Today was the first real day with the guys. You can skate as much as you want by yourself, but you’re not really pushing it until you practice with the team. What we did today was good, and I’ll just go day to day and see how it feels. Hopefully there will be no setbacks and I’ll just keep pushing." |
“This wasn’t like the last time,” he said. “Last time I felt a sharp pain right away and I couldn’t put any weight on my leg. This time it was a little different. It was 90 percent torn, so the 10 percent I had left was enough to keep playing and keep my knee strong enough. The doctor asked me about it and I said, ‘No, it feels fine.’ It was just sore doing the full extension, so I just never thought the ACL was damaged like that. “
He spent the entire summer rehabbing the knee in Orange County and back home in Montreal with a goal that hasn’t wavered since – to be ready to play in time for Anaheim’s opening game on October 2.
“Yeah, that’s my goal,” he said. “Today was the first real day with the guys. You can skate as much as you want by yourself, but you’re not really pushing it until you practice with the team. What we did today was good, and I’ll just go day to day and see how it feels. Hopefully there will be no setbacks and I’ll just keep pushing.
“I’m right where I wanted to be. That’s the same timing I’ve pretty much had when I hurt my other knee. I came back playing in 4 ½ months, and I think I’m right on time to do that now.”
All of it leaves Boudreau pleasantly surprised. “Goodness, it’s a six-month injury and it’s just over 3 ½ months since the surgery,” he said. “I’d say he’s way ahead [of schedule]. We want to make sure we don’t push it too much. If Beau had his way, he’d be playing on Monday. But we’ve got to do things a little slower. You love it when you have a leader like him out there, but you’ve got to pull in the reins a little bit.”
The Ducks start scrimmages tomorrow, and Beauchemin does not plan to take part for now. “I’m gonna take it day by day,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s going to feel tomorrow. It might be a little bit sore and I’ll have to back off a bit. If it feels good, I’ll just keep going.
“I know my body. I know how I feel. When I feel strong enough, I can start pushing it and be confident I can play physical again.”