Nathan Beaulieu is playing some of his best hockey of the season, maybe even since joining the Hamilton Bulldogs last season.
The 21-year-old puck-moving defenceman, who the Montreal Canadiens elected to take 17th overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, has noticeably taken his game to another level.
The Bulldogs have been one of the most dominant teams in the American Hockey League since the end of December, winning seven of their last eight games and earning points in eight of their last nine. And with five points in his last five games, Beaulieu has been a force for Hamilton at both ends of the rink.
After a practice this week at Copps Coliseum, Beaulieu modestly admitted that he could not take all of the credit for his individual success and acknowledged the team’s overall complete game.
“It’s easy to have success when the team is doing so well so I think with team success, personal success follows,” said Beaulieu. “We’ve been playing a lot better of a team game, everyone’s contributing and that gives you confidence and you feel more comfortable out there.”
Beaulieu had arguably his strongest game of the season in a recent matchup against the Iowa Wild. With both teams knotted 1-1 in the second period, Beaulieu scored the go-ahead goal and also added an assist. To top that off, when teammate Patrick Holland was nailed from behind by Wild forward Jim Mackenzie, Beaulieu took exception and dropped the gloves, earning him the ‘Gordie Howe Hat Trick’. (The phrase is a variation on the three-goal hat-trick, used when a player scores a goal, records an assist, and gets in a fight all in one game. It is named after hockey legend Gordie Howe, well known for his skill at both scoring and fighting. Eds note).
Bulldogs’ head coach Sylvain Lefebvre, who knows a thing or two about being a defenceman having played 14 National Hockey League seasons, praised Beaulieu for his ability to bounce back after a recent loss to Rochester.
“Obviously there’s going to be nights where you’re not as good as others; it’s how you come back from it,” said Lefebvre. “His (Beaulieu) Saturday game was just okay, he felt the same way, he came back the next day with a great performance.”
With five games under his belt with the Canadiens this season, Beaulieu shared the advice he received from Montreal’s management before being sent back down to Hamilton.
“They wanted me to come here and play big minutes and work on my defensive side as a player and person,” said Beaulieu. “That’s what I’m trying to do and I’m just hoping to get the call soon and stay up there.”
And that call-up came on Friday (Jan. 17).