Q&A with Rejean Beauchemin

By Al Alven

A fast-rising star in the Philadelphia Flyers’ system, Rejean Beauchemin was selected by the organization in the sixth round (191st overall) of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

Since that time, the 6’2, 192 lb. netminder has established himself as one of the top amateur goaltenders in North America, leading the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders – a previously struggling franchise – back to contendership status and battling his way to an appearance on the international hockey stage.

The Winnipeg native got out of the gates quickly last season, claiming the Raiders’ starting role in his second season with the team. He would go on to have a phenomenal campaign, finishing among the league leaders in a number of categories, with a 30-21-6 record, 2.32 GAA, .911 save percentage and six shutouts in 62 appearances.

The inexperienced Raiders bowed out of the postseason quickly, but Beauchemin’s season was not yet over. In a surprise move, the Flyers summoned the young goaltender from his summer job as a teacher’s aid in Manitoba to be with the team as an emergency third-string goaltender during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The move was a not-so-subtle testament to Beauchemin’s standing within the organization.

This season has been a roller coaster affair for the Raiders. The team (30-31-5-4) has struggled throughout the campaign, battling injuries and general inconsistency from the start. Beauchemin has played well on the whole, but has also struggled at times while playing behind a young, often-overmatched defensive unit.

The bright spot of the goaltender’s campaign, of course was his strong performance at Canada’s national team evaluation camps, and subsequent selection by the program for inclusion on its world junior championship roster. Beauchemin appeared in only one tournament game – a 9-0 lashing of Germany in preliminaries – but gained valuable experience with his first true exposure on the international stage.

After returning to Prince Albert with a WJC championship on his resume, Beauchemin seemed to pick up his play. He has been very steady for the Raiders over the past few months, helping the team secure a playoff spot and regain its confidence. His current statistics – 20-24-4 record, 2.61 GAA, .902 SP, five shutouts – are below last year’s marks, but are not necessarily a proper reflection of the goaltender’s overall performance this season.

At present, the third-place Raiders are preparing for a first round East Division playoff meeting with the second-place Saskatoon Blades next week. First, however, the two teams will meet this weekend in a regular season home-and-home series that is sure to serve as an intense preview of their postseason showdown.

Hockey’s Future had the opportunity to speak to Beauchemin earlier this week, as the Raiders were making preparations to for their postseason run.

HF: What are your thoughts on the Raiders’ season up to this point?
RB: It’s been a tough season. We’ve had a few key injuries, with [centers] Jeremy Colliton and Kyle Chipchura out of the lineup for extended periods of time, along with [defenseman] Mike Gautier. Actually, we’ve had quite a few guys out with injuries throughout the season. We couldn’t seem to get our game on track, and my play was a part of it. I wasn’t up to par much this season. I was kind of stressed out, worrying about the World Junior team and things like that. It’s been tough, but we’ve come through a lot of adversity. I think that, with some of the key players being out with injury, it’s given some of the other guys a chance to get some good playing time, to get some confidence. Things finally seem to be coming together for us right now, heading into the playoffs.

HF: How would you describe the team’s mindset heading toward the playoffs?
RB: We just want to get there and move on. We want to advance. We don’t want to go home early like we did last year. It’s the message we’ve really been beating into everyone’s head for the past little while here. We’re really gearing up for it, and we’ve been approaching every game like it’s a playoff game for the last 20 games or so. We just don’t want to be going home early, so we’re going to take it a game at a time. That’s the way it should be.

HF: The team already knows that its first round opponent will be the Saskatoon Blades. How do you feel the two teams match up?
RB: Well, they’re a very good team. Like you said, we’ve known that they would be our opponent for a while now. We actually have a home-and-home series with them this Friday and Saturday, before the regular season ends. So, we know those games are going to be really intense. We can pre-scout them a little bit more, I guess. They’re a tough team, and we know they’ll be tough to play against in the playoffs. You play the other teams in your division so many times during the regular season that you really get to know them, and you build up a big rivalry with all of those teams. We have a great coaching staff here, and they’ll prepare us as much as they can for us to be ready. I’m really looking forward to it, as is the rest of the team.

HF: You mentioned your thoughts on your play this season earlier. What has been the biggest difference for you personally, from last year to now?
RB: I’d say that consistency has been the biggest thing. I just wasn’t able to put the team on my back and steal wins in certain games this season. That’s something that maybe I did a little more of last year. I just wasn’t able to establish the kind of consistency to help the team really get on a roll at any point. Like I said, there was the World Junior situation and injuries and other distractions, and I just didn’t respond to the adversity the way I would’ve liked to. I think I’ve really improved during the second half of the season, though, and things have definitely gotten better. We have a chance to go far in the playoffs, and I want to be there for my team.

HF: How would you describe the evolution of your game during your time at Prince Albert?
RB: I’ve definitely changed quite a bit over the past three years, more in terms of confidence and experience than style. I didn’t even expect to be the starter at the beginning of last year. Things really fell into place well, though, and I had a great season. I played a lot and gained a lot of experience. That’s important for a young goaltender, and it only helps you get better. You know, the past five years of my hockey career, everything has been happening so quickly. I’m really, really thankful for that. And, hopefully, it’s just the beginning.

HF: How would you describe your style of play at this point?
RB: I’m a pretty aggressive goalie. I like to play the puck quite a bit. I’m pretty emotional, too. I really get into the games. I guess I don’t really have a set butterfly style or anything like that. I just work really hard in practice and I try to be a leader.

HF: What areas do you feel you have improved in most while in junior?
RB: Well, I’m definitely one of the veteran guys on my team, I guess you would say. So, I’d say I’ve really improved in the leadership department. I’ve played with rookie goaltenders in each of the past two seasons, Alex Archibald this year and Brant Hilton last season. You have to set a good example for the young guys coming in. You have to work hard every day and bring and edge in every day and help [the younger players] out with any questions that they have. I had a tough time breaking into the league, and I had a good example for me [goaltender Aaron Sorochan]. He really helped me out. I think it’s something that’s really important for any player, not just the goalies. It’s really important to have a good example to look up to.

HF: What are the things you feel you still need the most work?
RB: Last year, I thought I did a pretty good job of remaining consistent. I think that consistency has been lacking this year, though it’s been coming on of late, I believe. I think it’s just a matter of bringing your A-game every night. I don’t think I was ever taking nights off or anything like that, but you have to go into each game expecting to steal the game for your team. I think that’s something that I’ve been paying more attention to lately, and it’s really helped. It’s been showing, and it’s something that I hope to keep going with to further my career.

HF: Who would you say has helped you and your game the most during your time with the Raiders?
RB: Definitely my coaching staff. Peter Anholt, our head coach, and our assistant coaches, Dave Manson and Mark Odnokon. And, of course, my goaltending coach, Gary Johnson. They’ve all helped me quite a bit. They’ve given me a chance to play and they’ve forced me to become a better player over the past three years. So, definitely, I’d have to say my coaching staff.

HF: Let’s shift gears and talk about the World Junior Championships a bit. What did it mean to you to be named to Team Canada for the tournament this year?
RB: It was a dream come true. I was surprised to even be invited to the summer camp in the first place, to tell you the truth. It was something that, if you get an opportunity to take part in, you have to give it all you got. I worked hard during the summer for it, and I was just really glad that it paid off in the end. It’s something I’ll keep with me and remember for the rest of my life.

HF: You played in just one game, a 9-0 win over Germany during the preliminary rounds. What was that experience like?
RB: It was unbelievable. The game was pretty lopsided, obviously, and it just went by too fast, almost. We had such a great team. To be on the ice with talent like we had was just something else. I took a lot out of it. You learn a lot about yourself in situations like that. And, like I said, it’s something I’ll never forget.

HF: Were you disappointed that you didn’t see more action?
RB: In a way, but just being a part of what we had there was the real thrill. That was the most important thing. The whole experience, again, it just all went by so fast. I wish it could have lasted a little longer, actually.

HF: This was your first chance to play with fellow Flyers prospects Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Any insights on them?
RB: Oh, they’re both just phenomenal players. Mike was our captain, and he’s just a terrific leader. Jeff was an assistant captain, and he’s just a great, great player as well. They’re both great players and they’re even better people. They’re the kind of players where you really have to keep your ears open and listen to what they have to say. They haven’t been as successful as they’ve been for no reason. They’re guys that really challenged me and the other guys in practice. I’m looking forward to hopefully playing with them again in the future.

HF: What was it like to win it all, to be a member of the team that reclaimed the WJC title for Canada?
RB: There’s just no way to describe it. It’s something that you just can’t put into words, and something I could not begin to explain to someone else. You really have to be a part of it. Every positive emotion that you have goes into it. You’re ecstatic, you’re relieved, but, at the same time, you’re sad that it’s over. It just went by so fast. It’s something that, for sure, has been the most
special thing that’s happened in my career so far.

HF: Is there another experience or moment in your career that compares to this?
RB: No, I can’t say that there is. This was the best. Nothing can compare to the experience of winning the World Juniors for Team Canada so far. It was a great moment, and a great time for all of us on the team. I’ll never forget it. It’s going to be tough to top.

HF: What was the most important thing you took out of your WJC experience?
RB: Just the professionalism that everyone on the team showed. Everyone was just so dedicated to winning it. It’s not necessarily something that I learned, but it was just something that was really interesting to be a part of. For most games, I just kind of tried to keep a good mood in the dressing room and get the guys going. But, at times, I was just able to sit back and observe the
business-like attitude that everybody had.

HF: How old were you when you started playing hockey and how did you get involved with the sport?
RB: I started playing when I was five. My dad was the one responsible for getting me involved, for sure. He was always there to take me to games, to take me to practices. He introduced me to the game and taught me so much. We had a rink in our backyard every winter. He showed me so much out there. My dad coached me for a number of years when I was younger too.

HF: Were you a fan of any particular teams or players while growing up?
RB: I was always a big Canadiens fan while growing up. My dad probably influenced me quite a bit there also (laughs). He was always a Canadiens guy. I was also a big Ed Belfour and Chicago Blackhawks fan. Belfour was a guy I really liked to watch when I was younger.

HF: What was it you liked about Belfour, in particular?
RB: Well, it’s hard to say. I just liked his passion, his aggressiveness. Just the way he played the game. He’s always been a competitior, and that’s how I like to play the game.

HF: You were drafted by the Flyers back in 2003. How did you find out about it, and what was your reaction?
RB: I didn’t actually go to the draft, so I was at home. I wasn’t too sure if I was going to get drafted. I woke up at about 10 in the morning [on the second day of the draft] and got a call from my agent. He let me hear the good news. I was surprised, of course, and just thrilled to hear that I had been drafted. It was a pretty exciting time.

HF: Has the organization kept in contact with you much during either this or last season?
RB: Not as much this season as last season, because of the lockout. But, I spent some time with the goaltending coach, Reggie Lemelin, just before I left for the World Junior camp in December. He’s been a really big help for me. He’s kind of helped me get my game back on track. From then on, I’d say my game has really started to come together. That’s in large part to him and the way he’s helped me approach practice.

HF: What kind of advice did he give you, specifically?
RB: Well, it was nothing too specific, necessarily. We just worked on the little things. I had to get my confidence up a little bit. That was the main thing for me. He helped me take a better mental approach just by showing me some of the little, basic things. He really made a difference. He’s a great coach, great to work with.

HF: Talk about your surprise stint with the Flyers during last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. What were your thoughts when you heard that you were being summoned?
RB: That was another thing that just left me absolutely speechless. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I just couldn’t. As soon as I got the call, my heart was going a mile a minute, a thousand miles a minute. I was so excited. After all the hype kind of died down a bit and I was home packing, I was just exhausted from all of the emotions that went through me.

HF: What was it like, getting to practice regularly with NHL players for the first time during the playoffs?
RB: Anytime you can be around players of that caliber at that time of year, it will help you out. While I was there, I just tried to keep my ears open and absorb as much as I could. It was a bit overwhelming at first, an unbelievable experience. But, the guys were great and went out of their way to make me feel comfortable as soon as I got there. It was another big experience in my career.

HF: How would you describe your interactions with the Flyers goaltenders, Robert Esche and Sean Burke?
RB: They were great. That was the first time I ever met Sean Burke. He kind of took me under his wing. We spent a lot of time together in practice, at the rink, away from the rink, and stuff like that. Same thing with Robert Esche. He kind of did his own thing, obviously, as he had a huge part to play at that time. But, they’re two incredible goaltenders, and great guys too. I learned a lot from them and the whole experience.

HF: You participated in your second Flyers prospect camp last July. Any particular thoughts from that experience?
RB: When you go there, you have to be ready to work. It’s tough. Jim McCrossin, the strength and conditioning coach, he always works us really hard. We work hard, but at the same time, they work in some fun activities for us. It’s a great time to really push yourself and see what you can do. At the same time, you get to meet and work with a lot of great guys.

HF: Any thoughts on the other two goaltenders at the camp, David Tremblay and Martin Houle?
RB: Oh, yeah. David and I were both at the rookie camp the year before, so we knew each other already. I got to meet Martin for the first time at this camp. They’re both great goaltenders, they’re really great goaltenders. I expected to see them invited to the World Junior camps ahead of myself, actually. They’re great goaltenders. We really pushed each other at the camp, and I’m sure we’ll be pushing each other for the next little while here.

HF: The Flyers certainly have a lot of goaltending depth in the system at this time.
RB: Yeah, definitely. There’s a lot of competition there. Hopefully, it will all work out for the best for all of us. David and Martin are both great guys as well.

HF: Did you get a chance to see much of Philadelphia last summer?
RB: I went to a Phillies (baseball) game, and a bunch of us went to watch wrestling one night (laughs). That was a bit of a laugh, definitely a good time. And, the year before, some of us got to see the Eagles in concert. So that was pretty cool also.

HF: What do you think of the city so far, in general?
RB: It’s hard to say. I still haven’t had the chance to see much of it, really. Just the parking lot [sports complex area] (laughs). Hopefully, I’ll get to see more of the city on my next trip in. But, it looks like a great place to be, and a great place to play.

HF: Any hints on where you might be playing next season?
RB: Well, you’re asking the wrong guy (laughs). All I can do now is work my tail off and go on a long run in the playoffs, which is something I have dreamt of doing. That is my primary focus right now. I can’t look ahead to next year just yet. You know, you look at all of the great playoff series in the NHL that we’ve seen over the last couple of years. The way Giguere carried Anaheim (2002-03), and Kiprusoff with Calgary (last season). It’s just a big dream of mine to help my team and to be that guy that the team really counts on in the postseason. It’s important for your teammates to know that you’re always there for them. That’s something that I really hope to do here. So, before I can think about next season and where I will be playing, I have to focus on the present and nothing else.

HF: Obviously, you’re on the outside looking in as far as the lockout goes. But, what is your sense of the situation? Do you think we’ll see a resolution soon?
RB: I don’t know. I’m sure I know as much as anyone else does at this point. I do know that I speak for everybody in saying that it’s a huge loss. Not only do the guys want to play, but people want to watch it. I think it’s a big loss for me, personally. To be able to watch and learn from the guys on TV, I think that’s something that I really enjoy doing. I always try to watch the pro goalies and learn a little bit. That’s one of the best things about hockey, that you learn something new just about every day.

HF: As someone who was born and raised on hockey, how does it make you feel that the Stanley Cup will not be raised this June?
RB: It hurts. I mean, it’s really hard to see. That time of year, it’s a great time to get together with friends and stuff like that. It’s a real intense time. You get some good bonding in with your friends, place some bets sometimes. You watch it on TV and you can just feel the emotion of it all. It’s sad not to be able to see it this year. Hopefully, next year, I guess. At the same time, it just gives me more of a reason to go far in the playoffs. We have a thing of our own to take part in here with Prince Albert, and it just makes that goal all the more important.

HF: Quick question in closing. Are you aware that you share a birthday with Ron Hextall (May 3rd)?
RB: Really? No, I didn’t realize that (laughs). That’s pretty cool!

HF: Perhaps that’s a good omen for your future career with the Flyers.
RB: Hey, you never know. I certainly hope so. It’s a great organization and [Hextall] was a great player for them. I just have to continue to work hard here with the Raiders and focus on the playoffs, like I said. Hopefully, the lockout eventually gets settled I’ll get a chance to play pro at some point in the future.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.