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Beaulieu in goal for Wanderers opener, Oxner day to day

HFX Wanderers FC keeper Jason Beaulieu makes a save during practice. (CANADIAN PREMIER LEAGUE)
HFX Wanderers FC keeper Jason Beaulieu makes a save during practice. (CANADIAN PREMIER LEAGUE)

Jason Beaulieu will take his place in HFX Wanderers FC’s net sooner than later.

The new keeper will start the Canadian Premier League team’s season opener against Pacific FC on Saturday after returnee Christian Oxner took a knock in training. The team is listing Oxner as day to day.

“It’s going to be amazing to have a real game,” said Beaulieu, who signed with the team in the winter. “When I came here I was expecting to be playing a lot earlier in April. But the way it is now that we’re here, it feels normal again because we’re training for the game that’s coming up. That’s a lot different than when there were no dates ahead of us. It feels like real game preparation and that’s what all of us have been doing for years as players so it feels a lot more normal on the field now.”

Beaulieu, 26, entered the pro game after an outstanding NCAA career at the University of New Mexico. He was part of the Montreal Impact organization for several years but kept one eye on the new CPL during its maiden campaign in 2019.

“Actually a big part of my decision to come to Halifax was the stadium and, from following the team last year, I saw how it was full and the ambience was awesome,” the Montreal native said. “I like to play in front of crowds. That’s when I’m at my best and when I enjoy my soccer the most so that’s why it’s unfortunate that can’t happen this year. But I’m just excited to play games and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Like all players in the CPL, Beaulieu is trying to make this unusual period in time feel as normal as possible. Everything from how the team trained the past several weeks to the new isolation of living and playing inside the Charlottetown bubble calls for major adjustments but he said everyone is making a fairly smooth transition.

“It was weird, for sure, the last few months,” he said by phone from his Charlottetown hotel room. “We had a little more liberty to go out to restaurants if we wanted or just to go walk outside. That felt a lot more normal than now. This is my first experience in this kind of set-up where we’re not allowed to go out too much. We have a space we can go to but it’s pretty small and it doesn’t feel like the real world. It’s very different but for now it’s been pretty good.”

And because only seven of the 21 players on the Halifax roster are returnees, a silver lining of the long-term hotel quarantining is the accelerated process for building team chemistry.

“We’re together 24/7 but we’ve found ways to entertain ourselves,” he said. “We have a nice common room with a lot of different games so it’s been a lot of fun times like when we were kids at a tournament. Everything’s been good.

“And we’ve been doing initiation nights the last few days so that’s been a lot of fun seeing the guys up front singing songs and doing different things like dances. It makes everybody have to act a bit like a fool so it brings all of us together. It’s great bonding for the team and there’s really no better way to come together than to spend this much time with each other. We have to hang out together so we’re all getting to know each other really well.”

Even though the Wanderers could only hold modified practices that fit within the COVID-19 guidelines for several weeks, Beaulieu has an optimistic sense of how the team will perform in real competition.

“Every day we’re learning a bit more about how we want to play and how our players in the system (coach) Stephen (Hart) wants to put in place,” he said. “Every day we do a lot of tactics, of course, because we’re trying to replicate what we’re seeing in games. We try to practise each situation and then analyze our mistakes. We’ve been doing that for a few weeks now so at this point we feel like we know a little bit more about how we attack or how we defend. Of course it’s a bit different in a real 11 vs. 11 game so we’ll see what happens on Saturday.

“It’s been unfortunate we haven’t been able to play any exhibition games because that’s when you learn a lot but it’s the same for every team so no one has an advantage. And I feel pretty confident in how we’ll do.”

Notes: The CPL announced a new partnership between league broadcaster OneSport and the CBC on Wednesday. There will be a double-header every Saturday on the CBC, with a start time of 2 p.m. Atlantic. The Wanderers' game at 4 p.m. will be the second part of this weekend’s back-to-back.

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