The most welcome sight during the Ducks' return to practice this afternoon was not the practice itself, but what went on afterwards. There was Francois Beauchemin surrounded by about a half dozen reporters in the Ducks locker room, talking and laughing about the incident in San Jose that could have turned disastrous.
For those of us who were watching at the time it was a horrifying site -- Beauchemin taking a 90 mile-per-hour Dan Boyle slap shot to the face, going down in a heap then being helped off the ice with blood pouring from his head onto the sheet of ice. But thanks to the visor that Beauchemin wears full-time (and frankly, every hockey player should) what could have been a catastophe instead ended up being 10-12 stitches to the cut above Beauchemin's left eye. And the tough-as-nails defenseman was back out on the ice with four minutes left in the game, playing a major role in the Ducks hanging on for a 3-2 win over the Sharks. At one point late in the third, with Dan Ellis scrambling to get back in position, Beauchemin guarded the left post and kicked away a puck that could have led to the tying goal.
Beauchemin told the story of the puck incident today, starting with what he saw on the play. "All I could see was the puck coming 90 miles an hour and I didn't have time to react and move away," he said. "It hit my visor and I just went down. In that fraction of a second you have time to think, Oh my God. Did something bad happen? Is my eye okay?
"I took my helmet off and opened my eyes and I could see. I had time to worry about my eye for like a fraction of a second. As soon as I opened my eyes, I was able to see. I saw blood coming down but I knew it wasn't bad."
See, that's a hockey player for you. A cut above your eye from a speeding puck can be considered "not bad." For Beauchemin, the focus was on getting right back out there. "I knew it was 3-2 and there wasn't much time left," he said. "I think when I went in there was eight or nine minnutes left. I knew there was a timeout after the 6-minute mark, so I told the doc, 'Let's hurry up and get me back out there.'"
One reporter mentioned that there was a rumor that Beauchemin actually ran down the tunnel to get back in the game. "Who said that?" he laughed, acknowledging it was true. " Yeah, I wanted to hurry up and get back before they started to play again. Sometimes the play goes 2 or 3 minutes without a timeout."
But before he could do that, the doctor attending to Beauchemin had to run him through a sequence of tests to determine if he had a concussion. "They asked me some pretty hard questions, like saying the months of the year backwards," Beauchemin said with a chuckle. "That was the first one they did. I was like, 'Come on, give me an easier one than that.' I actually missed March.
"After that he asked me who we played last, where we were, what was the score, what time the game was. I told him we played St. Louis and won 4-3 last night at home. He asked what happened before the play, and I said I was battling in front and it was a D-to-D one-timer. I remembered everything, no headaches, nothing. When the doctor told me it was just a cut, and I felt alright, I knew I just needed to get stitched up and go back out there. There were no broken bones or pain at all."
Of course, this isn't the first time that the toughness of the guy some call "Boom Boom" has gone down in Ducks lore. There was the fight with Jarome Iginla in Game 6 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, a fight Beauchemin won decidedly to (as many believe) turn the tide of that series. Ironically enough, it was Beauchemin who took off his visor for that fight and encouraged Iginla to do the same.
There was the fight Beauchemin won decidedly over Tomas Kopecky of the Red Wings in Game 4 of an extremely tense playoff series with the Red Wings in 2009.
And there was this one that isn't as well known, against Minnesota in the first round of the Cup run in 2007. Beauchemin took a deflected puck to the face in Game 3 of that series, suffering a cracked jaw, an inch-long gash on the right side of his chin (a scar you can still see today) and a lost tooth. He had a plate surgically inserted into his jaw on a Monday, missed Game 4 the next day and was back for Game 5 another two days later with a clear protective wraparound facemask.
Not only did he play a game-high 28:32 in that game and take four shots on goal, but he got into this scrap with Marian Gaborik after a whistle. The scuffle turned into a shoving match, but escalated when Beauchemin went after Gaborik for throwing a punch at his head.
It's that kind of toughness -- not to mention a rocket of a slapshot -- that has made Beauchemin so esteemed by fans, teammates and coaches during two separate runs with the Ducks.
And after fearing the worst when that hairy moment went down Monday night, it's awfully encouraging to see him left with only with a few stitches and a heck of a good story.