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Familiar face with ‘C’ on jersey for captain: Phil Beaulieu now Northern Michigan University Wildcats’ hockey captain after year with ‘A’ for assistant captain

Northern Michigan University’s Philip Beaulieu, center, reacts to a save by Bowling Green State goalie Ryan Bednard, right, in the third period after skating in from the far side and firing a shot toward the corner of the net in the second game of their WCHA playoff series at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on March 16. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“I think having to fill those big spots will make us work together more.” — Phil Beaulieu, NMU hockey captain, on having to replace several top-scoring seniors from 2018-19

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MARQUETTE — There’s a new hockey captain along the shores of Lake Superior this season.

However, just like last year, the man in charge is quite familiar with the area.

After Sault Ste. Marie native Denver Pierce manned the helm as the captain of the Northern Michigan University hockey team in 2018-19, Duluth, Minnesota, East High School alum Phil Beaulieu will take over this fall.

Northern Michigan University's Phillip Beaulieu skates with the puck around the net in the first period against Michigan Tech in a game played at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on March 2. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

An All-American two years ago, Beaulieu shared assistant captain duties with Adam Rockwood last year as he looks forward to leading the Wildcats into next season.

“Obviously, it’s a college-level sport and I think it’s more rewarding the higher levels you go,” Beaulieu said in a recent phone interview. “And it means more to lead a team like that. I’ve been a captain before in high school, but that’s not close to the same as being the captain of a college team in a community such as Marquette.

“I couldn’t be prouder to have been named that and I’m just super pumped for the group of guys we have coming back next year. They’ll make it easy for me. It’s a great group of guys that want to win and that work together. I’m pumped to play with them.”

Beaulieu also feels that his time serving with Pierce and Rockwood last year will help him greatly as he becomes the man to lead.

“This year was a bit of a struggle at some times,” he said. “That was very hard to be a first-year captain and a junior, but any experience is a good experience and I think it’s taught me a lot this year about what to do and what not to do and what to do different. I think that experience will help me going into next year.”

Northern Michigan University's Philip Beaulieu, right, and Bowling Green State's Brandon Kruse battle for control of the puck in the neutral zone in the second period of the first game in their WCHA playoff series at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on March 15. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

When looking back at last year, Beaulieu said it was disappointing, considering the Wildcats’ high skill level, but he liked how he and last year’s graduating seniors helped turn the program around.

“We had a great team and I thought we just had an unlimited amount of skill that didn’t reach its potential,” he said. “But just a great group of guys.

“It was my third year here and we graduated like 11 or 12 seniors or something like that. That’s a big core of our team leaving, so I’m going to remember those guys a lot. That’s the majority of the team that I went to the championship game my sophomore season. Those were some great moments we had in turning this program around with (head coach) Grant (Potulny). I’m going to miss those guys.

“We had a nice little eight-game win streak at the end of the year that was pretty fun. But we ran into a tough Bowling Green team. All in all, it was a great year and I’ll remember those seniors a lot and the great moments I had with them.”

Unlike Pierce, as well as previous captains Robbie Payne and Zach Diamantoni the year before that who had several veterans backing them up, Beaulieu will have a lot of underclassmen under his watch.

Phil Beaulieu

Some captains might not be thrilled with that task, but Beaulieu is embracing it.

“I kind of like it,” he said. “We have guys that are going to step into roles. You really don’t know how it’s going to work out. I think having to fill those big spots will make us work together more. We have big shoes to fill obviously with Troy (Loggins) and Rocky leaving and the ‘D’ we had on the back end.

“Mainly, the scoring up front will be divided out with people now where we won’t be just relying on Rocky or Loggy or Pierce to do something. It will be evenly dispersed through four lines.

“I’m excited to have a deeper forward class than we did last year, believe it or not. I think it will work out great.

“Just like I said, everyone is going to have an equal opportunity next year. There’s going to be no set big dog, so that will make everyone work harder and work more for those spots.

“I think we’ll actually have more depth and skill than we did last year. It’ll just be more dispersed.”

Beaulieu also plans to disperse control, choosing to let his actions speak for him and letting his teammates be themselves.

He also plans to continue to be himself. Some captains try to avoid skirmishes and are more cautious to avoid penalties. Beaulieu squashed that idea quickly, bluntly saying “Not at all. I’ll be doing the same thing.

“I just like to lay back and kind of lead by example. During games and stuff, I’ll say my stuff when I need to, but I think the best thing to do as a leader is just make sure you’re one of the boys. The atmosphere is like everyone is the same. We’re all on the same team. Nobody is above or below (any)body.

“I think that’s pretty important to create good team cohesion. So my goal is just to make sure I’m working hard every day and do my part of it and then people will follow. We have a bunch of great leaders on this team besides myself being named the captain.

“I don’t think that matters. I just really like the group we have coming back with Darien and Luke and Joe. Even some of the freshmen coming in from last year who will be sophomores are just great natural leaders themselves. I think a big part of the way I’m going to do it is to let the team find its own identity and do my part and the rest will follow. Nothing needs to change.”

What also won’t change is Beaulieu’s large expectations this year as the senior wants to end his Wildcat career with some big achievements.

“Well the three years I’ve been here so far, I’ve lost in the (WCHA) quarterfinals, the semifinals and the championship,” he said. “So it’s time to get out of the league. It’s time to move on to the tournament. That’s the goal from Day 1 starting now. End of season, postseason training, that’s what the goal is. Just get out of the WCHA. We want to make it to the tournament and make a run to the Frozen Four and a championship.

“It’s Grant’s third year now. We’ve done good the past two years and changed things around, but it’s time to move on now. We’ve got to keep improving and keep getting better. That’s the next step.

“We definitely need to take advantage of some big nonconference games at the beginning of the year with St. Cloud (State) and Michigan State and BU (Boston University).

“I would really like to see us in the top 20 next year in the nation and get out of the WCHA. That’s always the goal and I think we can do that.

“We’ve got good competition in net next year. We don’t know who is going to be starting there, but I think we have a good starting ‘D’ corps coming back.

“My goals are high for next year and I think they should be. I’m excited with the group we have to do it.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.