LONDON, ONT. - One question will follow Nathan Beaulieu until he becomes a regular on the Montreal Canadiens blue-line.
Is he ready?
Media will inquire. Fans will wonder. Management will monitor. It’s the typical existence as the latest first-rounder in hockey’s biggest fish bowl.
But no one need ask the follow-up: Is he prepared? He should be — rarely has there been an 18-year-old hockey player armed with the tools and resources for such a challenge.
“I think a lot of it comes from my dad (Jacques),” Beaulieu said this week, back home in Strathroy after being picked 17th overall by the Habs last Friday in Minnesota. “He’s a hockey man. He’s been in the game a long time. We talk about it and I’ve been able to learn from him, by listening and watching.”
Want to understand the pressure of being a Montreal first-round pick? He can speak to Jacques’ old London Knights boss Mark Hunter, the seventh overall choice in 1981. Or how about dad’s D-man student Jarred Tinordi, Montreal’s first choice last year, who had Habs media showing up to find out about a slow start to his first OHL season?
“I train with Jarred,” Beaulieu said. “No one works harder. He’s got great work habits and he’s just a great guy to be around.”
The kid hung around when the 2005 Knights had the best team in junior hockey. He watched Corey Perry, the NHL’s reigning Hart Trophy winner, prepare for battle.
“I think all of that helps,” he said. “You think of the guys on those teams and see where they are now and it gives you a confidence (to get there one day too).”
Nathan had a front-row seat in his father’s career class — from minor hockey coach to Knights assistant to Quebec league bench boss, back to the Knights and now to Sarnia to try to right the Sting ship.
It’s a performance-on-demand sport, a fact his dad reinforced when he was invited as a late add-on to the Canadian world junior evaluation camp in Newfoundland last summer.
“I just tried to dive right in,” Nathan said. “If you don’t go to something like that and make an impression, they won’t invite you back.”
Accountability is a big part of the equation.
Before Nathan’s Saint John Sea Dogs won the Memorial Cup at Mississauga in May, they lost a particularly heart-breaking game in the league final against Gatineau. It was one of those deals where no one wanted much to answer questions of a game gone sour.
Young Beaulieu volunteered.
“I guess I got that hanging around the Knights dressing room as a kid,” the 6-foot-2, 174-pound defenceman said. “My dad would come out and have to face the tough questions — why did the team lose, why didn’t the defence play well — and I saw how he handled it. You’re going to be asked questions, especially in Montreal and places where there’s a lot of interest in what you’re doing, and it’s important to say the right things and be professional about it.”
He learned early on hockey is a business. He joined the Sea Dogs and the team fired his dad as GM and head coach. He could have quit or asked for a trade, but didn’t.
Though he presents a focused mug in public, he is regarded as one of the Sea Dogs’ biggest cut-ups.
“I think it’s a case where I’ve been on a team three years and I’m comfortable in the room with those guys,” he said, “and it’s great to have fun, but there’s a time and place for it. I’m very serious about hockey and when it’s time to work, you go to work.
“I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in my career already.”
Never was that roller coaster more apparent than at the draft. Though Nathan didn’t show any outward nerves in a TSN interview after he started to slide down the first round, he was starting to wonder when he would be picked.
“In the end, I couldn’t be happier where I went,” he said. “It’s one of the most recognizable jerseys in sports and it’s an honour to be part of such a historic organization. I’ve been to a game. A while ago, we were playing in Montreal and a few of us snuck over to watch the Canadiens.
“It was a Tuesday night and they had 18,000 people in the building.”
It will, one day, be his stage — wearing the bleu, blanc, rouge his dad dreamed about since growing up just south of Rimouski “in a small town where we got three TV channels. Watching the Canadiens Saturday night on CBC is what we did,” Jacques said.
It sparked a hockey love passed from father to son.
The education is nearly complete. Oddly enough, French is missing even though it’s all Jacques spoke until he was a teenager.
Nathan grew up going to English schools. His mother’s first language is English.
“In Montreal, it’s important you have to show respect for the language,” Jacques said. “He will learn it. He’ll take courses.”
He will be, above all else, prepared for everything to come.