Nathan Beaulieu let the sting of last season fester.
It was his worst year of professional hockey. The Buffalo Sabres were last in the league. He put up some of the worst numbers of his career. And he suffered from illness and injury, including concussions, that limited him to just 59 games.
But instead of going home to Montreal and trying to forget the awful experience ever existed, Beaulieu let the bad feelings linger. At least for a little while. He wanted to fully embrace what this felt like. Because he never wanted to feel that way again.
“It was a tough year. I kind of let it eat me up a little bit. You want it to hurt a little bit,” the Sabres defenseman said. “Obviously, I’m 25 years old. I didn’t want a year like that to define me. I knew how important it was to be in shape, ready to go, and the biggest thing is to take advantage of everything they give me.”
He’s already jumped on one opportunity, notching a goal in the Sabres preseason opener in Columbus on Monday. That’s a good building block for Beaulieu as he starts to redefine himself on the ice.
"You could see Nate was really, really confident tonight, jumping up in the play and moving the puck well, making really good decisions," Sabres coach Phil Housley said after Monday night's game. "Really good power-play goal by him. He hammered that puck right down the middle and it was a good play set up, but overall I think he was probably one of our best defensemen."
Two years ago with the Canadiens, Beaulieu had 28 points (four goals, 24 assists) and a plus-8 rating in 74 games.
Last season he had just nine points (one goal, eight assists) and was a minus-19.
This was not the kind of hockey Beaulieu was used to.
About a month into the Sabres offseason, Beaulieu and his teammates got phone calls from both Housley and General Manager Jason Botterill.
“They said how excited they were and how we’re going to flip it over and we’re going to forget about last year," Beaulieu said. “When we come in, it’s going to be a tough training camp so be in shape. So there’s a lot of motivation coming into the year.”
Being in good physical condition wasn’t a concern for Beaulieu. But he did have on specific area he needed to work on. Which is why he ended up trying to read while jumping on a trampoline. For real.
“I had a couple concussions last year so being mentally healthy is just so important,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. I was working on my eyes a lot. Sometimes with injuries like that your tracking, you lose a little bit of it.”
See, a key area for hockey players is their ability to track the puck on the ice. Traumatic brain injuries, like sports concussions, can impact vision. So Beaulieu worked to retrain and strengthen his eye muscles which would help him with tracking the puck.
“I’d do some work on a mini trampoline and I’d read papers on the wall, just try to work on my peripheral (vision), and track stuff, and do two things at once,” Beaulieu said. “You know your coordination, you just lose it a little bit. It’s all muscle memory so you just try to get back into it. I had a great trainer in Montreal that worked with me a lot and I think it’s going to pay dividends for me.”
Meanwhile, what about that tough training camp Housley and Botterill promised?
“When they say it’s tough it’s not, oh we’re going out there crashing and banging. It’s just demanding. Be in good shape. If you’re not in good shape, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb,” Beaulieu said. “Give credit to the guys. It looks like everyone took the offseason seriously and the coaching staff did as well and management with all the moves they made. It seems like everything is working in the right direction.”