My Sportsman: David-Alexandre Beauregard
Travel, he's had his share. He's been everywhere, man.
He's been to Moncton, Lexington, Shawinigan, Muskegon, Kansas City, Wichita, Flint, Greensboro, Port Huron, Fort Wayne, Roanoke, Danbury, Manchester, Nottingham and Tulsa. Actually, he went to Tulsa three times. And he lives there today.
David-Alexandre Beauregard -- who retired from professional hockey this year at age 37 -- played for more than 25 teams in his 20-year career. And he did so, knowing that he would never make it to the NHL, he could never make it to the NHL. It didn't matter. Glory and riches and trappings, be damned. For all the times we hear athletes insisting that they would play simply for "the love of the game," here's a concrete example.
Backstory: Beauregard was barely 18, when, returning from an Expos game in his native Montreal, he was told that the San Jose Sharks selected him with the 271st pick in the NHL Draft. He was puny -- philanthropically, he was listed at 5-foot-10, 165 lbs. -- but was quicker than a subliminal message, and scored goals in abundance. He attended a Sharks summer rookie camp and was told that a bit of seasoning was the only ingredient missing from his game. Soon, an NHL call-up was likely.
That fall, playing a game for a team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Beauregard was -- as he often was -- blitzing ahead on a breakaway. A defender tried to use his stick to stop Beauregard. The stick rode up Beauregard's body and slipped under visor, the blade gouging his left eye. Beauregard scored anyway. But he would never see out of his left eye again. "I went to the hospital," he says, "The doctor took one look and said: We can't save your eye."
In an instant, his designs of playing in the NHL were dashed. There could be no miracle comeback, as the league has a rule forbidding players blind in one eye from competing. Beauregard realized quickly why the policy is in place. After a small ball was sewn into his left eye so it would retain its natural shape, Beauregard went back to the place that gave him the most solace: the ice. "I was falling down, I was hitting the boards, I thought I was receiving the puck -- that's what it was in my brain -- but the puck wasn't even close to me. It was the depth perception. I figured I would play hockey again but just with friends or in a beer league."
Gradually, though, he adjusted and began to regain his sense of space and depth. When he announced that he wanted to resume his career, it mostly triggered two reactions: 1) Giving literal zest to the term "blind-sided," he was putting himself in danger in a fast, physical sport. 2) What's the use if you can never make the NHL? On the first point, Beauregard was willing to shoulder the risk. On the second point, he shrugged. "This is my passion, has been all my life. Showing up in the morning, practicing with the guys, being in the dressing room, going on road trips. All of it. Why stop? Because I would never play in the NHL? No. I always told myself, 'If I cannot score goals, I'll stop.'"
For nearly the next two decades, Beauregard scored goals. Lots of them. From all coordinates on the ice. All over the world. He toyed with defenders and gave whiplash to goalies who would eventually make it to the NHL. During the 2004-05 season, Beauregard played in the United Hockey League, against the likes of Sean Avery, Bryan Smolinski and Brendan Shanahan who were staying in shape during the NHL's lockout-cancelled season. Against the best of the best, Beauregard scored 29 goals in 47 games.
When you're Crash Davis, slogging through the minors, never able to catch the eye of teams in the Big Leagues, it breeds bitterness. When -- no matter how well you perform -- you can't make the Big Leagues, well, it breeds an entirely different perspective. To Beauregard, he was already at the highest possible level. So why not savor the experience? "Competing, playing games, playing as hard as I could, winning, having teammates, I knew it would probably be the best times of my life," he says. What about missing out on the millions that came with an NHL contract? "I was still making pretty good money for minor league hockey," he says. (Those riches? On average $1,300 a week plus housing.)
Beauregard decided earlier this year that this would be his last season in pro hockey. Had this been the NHL, the retirement of a player who'd scored 540 goals over 20 years would have occasioned league-wide stick taps. Instead, Beauregard simply took his Tulsa Oilers jerseys and quietly went home to his wife.
But if you want to contend that there's an element of tragedy here, well, you got the wrong guy. David-Alexandre Beauregard lost an eye and still got to perform his passion for a living. If there's anything sad about his story, well, that's not how he sees it. Not at all. For this, he is our Sportsman of the Year.