By Neil Stevens
ANAHEIM, Calif. — It’s hard to fathom, considering his importance to the Anaheim Ducks, that defenceman François Beauchemin kicked around in the minor leagues for five years before getting a big-league gig.
The Montreal Canadiens couldn’t find a spot for Beauchemin after drafting him, and at one point he was demoted from their American Hockey League farm team to the Mississippi Sea Wolves of the ECHL.
On Monday, when the Ducks won the first game of the Stanley Cup final 3-2, Beauchemin’s ice time of 29 minutes 3 seconds was exceeded only by that of teammate Chris Pronger. He has a wicked slap shot on power plays and also kills penalties.
The 26-year-old native of Sorel, Que., has certainly come a long way. Obviously, patience and perseverance are staples of his personality.
Didn’t he ever get discouraged, want to throw in the towel?
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Every year, I was getting better, getting closer to the NHL. Every training camp, I was doing some better things and feeling better on the ice. I knew at one point I would make it.”
He thought he had it made when Montreal drafted him, 75th overall, in 1998. It was the dream of every kid in Sorel to pull on a Habs sweater.
He spent the next two seasons with the AHL’s Quebec Citadelles and a month during the second season in the third-tier ECHL.
“That was tough,” he recalled.
He was with the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs for the next two seasons. The Canadiens called him up for only one game, and he’ll never forget it.
“It was a Thursday night at home against Minnesota,” he said. “We lost that game, but I ended up playing a decent game and played about 17 minutes. It was my first NHL game. It was a good experience for me. All my family was there. I was pretty excited.”
He was quickly back in Hamilton.
“There were always guys ahead of me,” he explained.
Mike Komisarek and Ron Hainsey would be the defencemen getting the call-ups.
“I was third on the list and I didn’t get a chance,” Beauchemin said.
The Columbus Blue Jackets claimed him on waivers from Montreal, but he played the National Hockey League lockout season in the AHL with the Syracuse Crunch.
He started the 2005-06 season with the Jackets, returning to the big league nearly three years after that single game with the Habs, and he appeared in only 11 games before being traded with Tyler Wright to Anaheim for Sergei Fedorov and a fifth-round draft choice.
“That was a shock,” he said. “I didn’t expect that. Getting traded for a guy making $6-million [all currency U.S.] and who won Stanley Cups was quite a thrill. I was battling for a sixth or seventh spot on the defence and trying to stick in the NHL, but the trade happened and I got here and things ended up pretty good.”
Being paired with Scott Niedermayer on the Anaheim defence did wonders for him.
“He’s one of the best, so I don’t think you can ask for more than that,” he said. “Just being at his side on the ice gives you confidence and you make better plays just like that.”
His cannon-like point shot has made him a valuable weapon on power plays. He began to draw acclaim last spring when the Ducks went to the Western Conference final.
“That was my first NHL playoffs experience,” he said. “We had a decent run. It was a great experience for all of us. We learned from that and we built off of that for this year.”
He’s one of the NHL’s biggest bargains, at $500,000 this season. Recognizing his increased value, the Ducks will pay him $1.65-million for each of the next two years.
To get to the next level, he knows he has to limit his mistakes.
“Everybody makes them, but I have to limit mine,” he said. “I have to make better decisions with the puck. In the defensive zone, I still have a tendency to try to move the puck in the middle instead of along the wall.”