Beaulieu fires up defence

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

The Windsor Spitfires aren't ranked No. 1 anymore in the Canadian Hockey League.

The London Knights sit eighth.

The Quebec league's Saint John Sea Dogs, who won their first four games this season, are 10th.

And in a curious way, ex-Sea Dogs GM and coach Jacques Beaulieu has had his hand in all three rankings.

Starting his second tour as Knights assistant coach, Beaulieu assembled a defence featuring Steve Tarasuk and a bunch of green guys who held the defending Memorial Cup champ Spits to two goals on Friday.

Sure, the Brick House -- rookie goalie Michael Houser -- stood on his head. But the blue-line wasn't the glaring weakness anticipated without workhorses John Carlson and Michael Del Zotto, who's looking every day more like a candidate to start the NHL season in the Big Apple.

But with recently-acquired San Jose Sharks prospect Michael D'Orazio skating in practice yesterday, the Knights D could get a boost tomorrow night at home against Mississauga St. Mike's.

"I don't like kids running around," Beaulieu said. "I want them to know their role out there and if they don't know, then don't be afraid to ask. We'll show them over and over -- as long as it takes.

"My fault, at times I know, is I'm too defensive. I like the simple plays. Dale (head coach Dale Hunter) likes (defencemen jumping into the rush) more than I do, but Carlson, when he did it, he got back in the play right away.

"I don't want to see a 16-year-old doing it. At this point, we just want them to learn the position."

Beaulieu's caught in an interesting spot.

He's happy to be back working with the Knights, living in Strathroy and talking puck with his Hunter pals again every day.

"We start talking hockey at 8 a.m. and it doesn't stop," he said. "You have 20 years of NHL knowledge in Dale and if you don't tap into that, you don't want to learn.

"The toughest part is I don't know all the kids in the league yet. All that's left from when I was here is the '89s (birthdates) and they're the over-agers now.

"But the referees are mostly the same and know me and a lot of the same coaches are still here."

Beaulieu, a Memorial Cup winner in 2005, was hired by Saint John after the Knights lost the 2006 OHL title to Jordan Staal and the Peterborough Petes. He spent two-and-a-half years at the helm and was fired in the midst of assembling a team that could compete for the Cup this season.

"There's an adjustment going from a GM and head coach back to an assistant," he said, "but they (the Hunters) give me a lot of responsibility. I'm in charge of the penalty kill. We're all scouting. It's been good. That's not to say I don't want to be a head coach again someday but it's a nice feeling to be back here.

"I could've sat around and collected a paycheque for a couple of years but that's not me."

The Dogs he built should be contenders. Former Detroit Red Wing Gerard Gallant is their coach now.

In a deal put together by Beaulieu before he left, Saint John now has Drummondville's 50-goal scorer Mike Hoffman, a Kitchener native, in its lineup.

That roster also includes Beaulieu's 16-year-old son Nathan, a six-foot-two defenceman who's not NHL draft eligible until next year and scored the winning goal last week in a game against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

"He's all right (on his own) -- he's mature for his age," Jacques said.

Though there's eight months of heavy lifting to do, there's still that chance father and son could face each other in the Memorial Cup this year in Brandon.

"It would be pretty unique," Beaulieu said. "There would be a lot of emotion for the family if it happens."

The elder Beaulieu figures he has come a long way as a coach the past decade.

He has seen it all now, including a national furor over a dispute in Saint John he had with a player for not signing a Canadian flag destined for troops in Afghanistan a couple years back.

That issue is something he'd rather forget.

But he has certainly remembered how to run a defence and special team -- and the Knights are clearly better with him on board.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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