Working the Reno Aces bench inside Santa Rosa’s ice arena, Norm Beaudin shared some of the wisdom gleaned over two decades in professional hockey.
Still competitive even in the gentlemanly Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament, the former right winger exhorted players, many in their 70s, with potent words of encouragement.
Recent surgery sidelined Beaudin, who finally made the famed tournament. But the man who four decades ago matched Hall of Famer and Winnipeg Jets linemate Bobby Hull in scoring still likes to win.
“The play is good. The guys go pretty hard,” Beaudin said. “But it’s all fun in the end. We laugh a lot. If you lose, you shrug it off and go get a beer.”
Medals were out of reach for the Aces in the 60C Division. Yet the players gained valuable coaching from a celebrated former hockey pro.
Each year the event draws a handful of former professional players or current coaches still going in adult leagues. Snoopy’s is one of the nation’s premier senior tournaments.
“We always have someone with some significant Stanley Cup or NHL experience,” said Mike Kovanis, hockey director for Redwood Empire Ice Arena. “They’re just another hockey player out here like anyone else socially. But on the ice they definitely stand out. They’re some of the best players out there.”
Relegated to coaching this tournament, Beaudin plans on a return to get some action on the ice.
Skating since he could walk, he set out on a path to the pros out of high school in 1959, playing in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Two years later Beaudin reached the minor leagues. He would lace up his skates for a paycheck with a dozen teams before retiring in 1978.
“I stayed in the game more than most players,” said Beaudin, now 72. “I was in pretty good shape and I could score goals. I had that knack to get up there. That kept me going.”
In a journeyman career Beaudin was claimed, loaned, traded, selected or signed on nine different occasions.
Blues, Canadiens, North Stars
After six years in the minors Beaudin got his first big break. With the 1967 expansion of the National Hockey League he was claimed in the draft by the St. Louis Blues, where Beaudin played part of the franchise’s inaugural season. He would reach the NHL again three years later when the Montreal Canadiens traded him to the Minnesota North Stars.
Going on 30 years old, Beaudin’s opportunities to stick in the NHL were closing.
“When you get up there in age, it’s about over,” he said.
Yet his career was about to take off.
With the NHL expanding, the rival World Hockey Association opened for business in 1972.
The upstart league placed teams in a number of major cities, including a handful in Canada overlooked by the NHL.
Winnipeg was granted a founding franchise. The Jets’ first signing was Beaudin – The Original Jet.
“It was great to be the first one to sign. My validation as a pro was my first year with Winnipeg,” Beaudin said.
Beaudin equals Hull’s scoring
In another bid to compete with the NHL, the WHA attracted top players by paying higher salaries.
The Jets’ signing of veteran Bobby Hull, still a great scorer with the Chicago Blackhawks, gave the WHA credibility as his was the biggest name to switch leagues.