Don Beaupre entered the NHL with a bang.
In his first season, Don was an All-Star, helped the North Stars win the Norris Division and advance to the Stanley Cup finals where they fell just short against the New York Islanders. It was the start of a pro career that young goalies usually only dream of.
None of the teams Don played for ever reached that lofty status again. But Don said that the first NHL season was a blessing in disguise.
"When I got drafted, before I went to training camp my parents had a party for me and a bunch of friends came over and stuff like that," Don said. "It was kind of a good luck party, and I really shouldn’t have made it that year. I wasn’t thinking I should or shouldn’t make it, it was just the next step and you go and see what happens. If I was thinking, 'Boy, I really have to go and make it,' I probably wouldn’t have. The pressure would have probably got to me. Being naive probably helped my chances then."
Don enjoyed a pretty good junior career with the Sudbury Wolves and made the First All-Star Team in 1980. His fine play prompted Minnesota North Stars to pick him 37th overall that year.
Don's rookie season in the NHL was sensational and he played like a seasoned veteran. As mentioned previously, he made the All-Star team, helped the North Stars win the Norris Division and also helped them reach the Stanley Cup finals.
"That was quite a year," Don admitted. "Just to make it to the NHL, we won a few games, I made the All-Star team out in Los Angeles and I'd never been there before, and we were in the finals. It was quite a year, no doubt, and I never had anything like that again."
Don played in two of the games in the finals (Gilles Meloche played in the other three). Don earned the lone North Stars victory when his team was facing elimination, down 3-0. They eventually lost the series in five games as Don played in the fifth and final game.
"We had a lot of young guys with energy and enthusiasm, and we had a pretty good group of guys," he said. "Perhaps the difference between winning and not was that most of the talent was in the young and inexperienced guys. We had older guys with a lot of heart, but most of the talent was in the guys 25 and under, so maybe that was the difference."
Don spent seven fairly successful seasons in Minnesota although none as good as his rookie season. He was then placed on waivers and sent to the minors early on in the 1988-89 season. It didn't sit well with Don who demanded a trade. His wish was granted and Don was traded to Washington for rights to Claudio Scremin on November 1, 1988.
At first, Don was sent down to the minors and it seemed that his situation wasn't going to improve since Clint Malarchuk and Pete Peeters were between the pipes in Washington .
"That took some of the excitement away," Don said. "I knew I had to put in my time, but it was tough, it was probably the toughest point of my career. Pete Peeters and Clint Malarchuk were there. I had to unseat them. You could play as well as you could, but if they are playing well for the Caps you aren’t going to get a shot. It was tough, because the rumor was that a couple of teams wanted to make a trade for me because they had injuries, and the Caps didn’t want to make any deals. It was pretty frustrating."
But soon Don got another chance and seized it. He not only made his way back to the NHL, but went on to make his mark in the Capitals' record book. Don held the franchise record in career wins (128) until Olaf Kolzig broke that mark.
The Capitals had a strong team defensively with a defense-first mentality, anchored by blueline stalwart Rod Langway.
"No doubt, those were some of the most fun times in my career," Don said. "I was playing all the time, we were winning in a tough division, it was real satisfying for me.
"I had five shutouts in one year [league leading in 1990-91], and I struggled to get one in every other year I think. It was fun to play with guys like Rod Langway and Mike Gartner, real good players and respected players. It was a good experience, and I really enjoyed living in Washington D.C., too."
Don's 2.64 GAA in 1990-91 was a career best and he played in his second All-Star game in 1992. Don was eventually traded to the lowly Ottawa Senators in 1995. There he played a total of 71 games between 1995 and 96 and was then traded to the NY Islanders who the same day shipped him to Toronto. Don finished his playing career by playing the majority of his games for St.John's Maple Leafs (AHL). He also saw time with Utah Grizzlies (IHL) and the Maple Leafs.
"I was fortunate to play 17 years professionally, and it went by quick," Don said. "The NHL was done with me, and I think I was pretty much done with it and could leave it behind.
Today Don lives in Minnesota, where he and a partner run a construction equipment rental business called Power Lift Inc. The company rents man-lifts, scissor-lifts, booms and other heavy gear used in construction.
"We started with about 78 machines and now we have 350 in a year and a half, and things are going OK," Don said. "It was rough early with the capital expenditure to buy the equipment, but it's going OK, we’re happy. It’s been a good learning experience to not only get involved in a business regularly, but to help run it."
Don Beaupre entered the NHL with a bang.