You ought to save the best for last — or so the old adage goes. It’s only after the hardships that you fully grasp an appreciation of how fleeting a moment of greatness can be.
The lesson applies across all phases of life for all people, regardless of how you phrase the platitude; struggle yields satisfaction. Skip the trial and you lose perspective of how difficult or big those accomplishments were. You don’t want to run out your days feeling as though you’ve left something in the proverbial room.
While this may be true for the most part, some people have a knack for getting it right the first time. For Don Beaupre, in 17 NHL seasons and now 14 years as an businessman, he got it right off the hop. Twice. And there shouldn’t be any doubt over whether or not he has left anything in that room.
At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds the Waterloo, Ont., native was a quintessential goalie of the 1980s. Smaller in frame, he was forced to play a what we, in retrospect, call the stand-up style — attacking shooters. He reacted to the offence. He wasn’t a puck stopper — he made saves happen.
Beaupre capitalized on a chance to shine right away in major junior with the Sudbury Wolves of the then-OHA. Despite originally wanting to go to the Oshawa Generals after being recruited by the team, he settled down nicely in The Nickel City. Beaupre was a star for the Wolves over two seasons, and an OHA first team all-star in 1980.
At 18 years old his career had progressed as smoothly as any kid dreams and the next logical step was the National Hockey League. The Minnesota North Stars took him in the second round — 37th overall — of the 1980 NHL Entry Draft.
He was the first goaltender selected.
Four months to the day of his name being called, Beaupre was in uniform after breaking camp with the North Stars at 19 years old. That night, they beat the Hartford Whalers by a 9-3 score. He was a pro hockey player from day one.
“Before I went to training camp my parents had a going away party for me. Later I had some friends tell me they thought it was weird because I wasn’t supposed to make the team,” Beaupre said. “That was just part of being naive. You get older and progress and the net doesn’t get any bigger and it becomes the next step. You just adjust and it went well.”
It went very well. During his rookie season, Beaupre made an appearance in the 1981 NHL All-Star game and helped lead the North Stars to one of the most successful seasons in franchise history. They went on to an appearance in the Stanley Cup final, before ultimately losing to the Islanders juggernaut of the decade. The run as a 19 year old was his only Stanley Cup final appearance.
While Beaupre continued to play well for the North Stars over the next seven seasons, the team’s results began to fluctuate. Division champions fizzled in the playoffs and ultimately began missing the playoffs altogether. Changes were coming.
On November 1, 1988, Minnesota’s made their second of seven trades in a two month span, shipping Beaupre to the Washington Capitals. Being traded for the first time in his career didn’t sit well at the time, “Like everyone I’m sure I didn’t think I was the reason for the team struggling.”
Beaupre buckled down in Washington after a stint with the Baltimore Skipjacks. It took a couple of months, but a 7-2 win over Glenn Healy and the Los Angeles Kings was the start of a new era for the Caps and Beaupre in goal.
“It worked out for the best,” Beaupre said. “I ended up playing five solid years for the Caps, I think.”
The Capitals reached the playoffs each season Beaupre was their starting netminder, including a conference finals appearance during the 1989-90 season. He made a second appearance in the All-Star Game in 1992, and patrolled the Capitals’ crease until the end of the 1994-95 lockout when he was moved to the young Ottawa Senators to make room for up-and-comers Jim Carey and Olaf Kolzig.
Despite being traded out of Washington, Beaupre considers himself a Washington Capital, “I really feel like a part of that organization. My heart is with Washington.”
Beaupre played out the final four years of his career in Ontario. He set many early records for the new Senators franchise and is the owner of the first shutout in modern franchise history — a 3-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
In 1996, he landed in Toronto as part of a three way deal with the Islanders which also sent Kirk Muller to the Maple Leafs. After 15 seasons, it was a chance to experience his youth from the other side of the television.
“I grew up in that. When I was growing up the Leafs weren’t winning very much but you still knew everyone on the team,” Beaupre said. “It was really astounding to do the full circle and come back there and experience what I did as a little kid.”
In a career filled with ups and downs, Beaupre’s rookie year stands above all else in his memory. It may have taken those other 16 seasons to cement how special a Stanley Cup appearance is, but his approach never changed regardless of date on the calendar or jersey on his back. The net never got bigger and he adjusted each night.
“I went out there and gave an honest effort. I went out there and I didn’t leave anything in the room emotionally or physically.”
Beaupre carried that same drive with him as he transitioned out of hockey and into the business world. Once again, the next step — the first one — was the right one. He made his foray into the equipment rental business in 1998 and five years later he founded Beaupre Aerial Equipment. While far from the typical NHL to proletariat adjustment, the move has gone well.
“My best friend growing up in Waterloo was in the equipment rental business and I found an opportunity to get involved so I did,” Beaupre said. “It’s been good. It has evolved with a couple of companies. This one we’ve grown quite a bit.”
With Beaupre Aerial Equipment based out of Minneapolis, Beaupre is a Wild season ticket holder and an active member of the Minnesota NHL Alumni Association. The group has unified NHL alumni across Minnesota who have played for the North Stars, Wild and other NHL franchises and are active in community initiatives both on and off the ice.
While Beaupre takes pride in his hockey career, he is solely focused on family and his company now as his time on the ice has passed.
“For me hockey’s just something I did. Now, I’m in the rental business and what’s important is who I am in the community and what I do in the community; giving back as far as my family or coaching or charity work and who I am to my employees and my customers.”
Hockey was a useful foot in the door for Beaupre, now 51. The arena has changed, though the goal remains the same.
“I tried to have a good reputation in hockey and I try to do that now in business,” Beaupre said. “If they (fans) respected me in my hockey career, I hope I can earn their respect in my business career.”
After 17 years in the NHL and 14 years on the other side of hockey, the net hasn’t gotten any bigger for Don Beaupre. The first step into business was the right one. In those 14 years he has gotten older and progressed and adjusted and each day it’s on to the next step.
It’s going well.