The Chicago Blackhawks are a franchise steeped in history — one that culminated last season in the club’s hoisting of the Stanley Cup. Power forward Kyle Beach may prove to be a big part of the club’s future, but he’s moving forward with a healthy reverence for the past.
“I think right there you’re immediately a fan. Chicago’s one of the six teams that started it all. You look at their past now and I only knew a little bit about them, but they had so many great players that you had to know about some of them,” Beach said. “You look at the list: the Bobby Hulls, the Stan Mikitas, Tony Esposito, the list goes on and on, and I could name them all day. Denis Savard, Dale Tallon, all these guys, to see them still around and still being a big part of the team and getting to meet with them and chat with them, it’s really unbelievable.
“To see how they still come back and how they still treat the fans — I sat with Bobby Hull one day and watched him sign autographs that people sent to the Blackhawks for two hours. That’s what it’s all about right there and to see those guys are still doing it, even though they haven’t played for years is pretty remarkable to me.”
And despite his young age, Beach has taken the opportunity to learn from those who have worn the Blackhawks logo in years past — especially when it comes to appreciating what it takes to get to this level.
“I think we’ve all the videos. They’re on the Jumbotron at the game every night, we’ve all seen the historic videos and the old Don Cherry’s, now being in Chicago I’ve seen a lot more of it. I think seeing how dedicated they are to the sport and how dedicated they are to Chicago and how much they care and how much they give back still to this day, it’s pretty impressive,” Beach explained. “They’re taking the time and it may not be anything big, but it’s a lesson to me to remember where you came from and who took care of you.”
Beach was drafted 11th overall by the Blackhawks at the 2008 NHL entry draft. Currently listed at 6’3, 212 pounds, he played 68 games last season with Spokane of the WHL, scoring 52 goals and totalling 86 points. He added a whopping 186 penalty minutes during the regular season, and followed that with a successful post-season campaign, where he scored seven goals in seven games, en route to nine points.
Following the end of Spokane’s season, Beach also saw limited action at the end of the Rockford Ice Hogs’ regular season, getting in four games, before becoming a solid contributor in Rockford’s four AHL playoff games, scoring three goals in his appearances. Now he’s a first-time participant in the rookie tournament — and he’s not taking anything for granted.
“Well, it’s a chanced to get prepared for main camp. I mean, I think I’m going to be there so it’s a chance to get your game legs under you and it’s a chance to get into playing shape. We’re all in good shape and we’ve all worked out all summer but it’s a chance to get your breathing down and get used to the shifts,” he explained. “It’s pretty easy [to get motivated]; I’m trying to make a hockey team. Every guy here wants to be there and every guy wants that spot, so with all all the guys that [the Blackhawks] got rid of — you hate to see it, but it’s a business — and the end of the day it opens up a couple of spots. At the end of the day, that’s enough motivation in itself.
“Obviously any time you get to put that Indian head on your chest it’s a great honour and to be with this group of guys — all younger guys — with this management and this coaching staff, it’s a great opportunity for all of us.”
It’s that attitude — along with a solid hockey sense — that Bill Peters, the Rockford Ice Dogs head coach and coach of the rookie tournament entry, feels will serve Beach well as he prepares for the upcoming season.
“I think the mature guys have that mindset. When you take things for granted, that’s when you get caught with your pants down a little bit. He’s got to go in there and make a real good hockey team — they’re the defending Stanley Cup champions,” Peters said. “We’ve added some guys, added some depth in the off-season. You’re not just going to walk in their and get handed the spot — I don’t think that’s healthy in pro sports, so he’s going to have to go in there and have a good camp, and play a very mature game.
“He’s got very good instincts and he’s a very good offensive player. When he puts it all together, he’s a very complete player, so that’s what we’re working on here — making sure he knows that plays that are naturally good plays and which plays he has to get out of their repertoire.”
Beach got an early taste of NHL life last season as one of the club’s Black Aces — a group of prospects who travelled with the Blackhawks throughout their Stanley Cup run. The experiences have just whetted his appetite to create some of his own.
“Being a ‘Black Ace,’ being in the playoffs and watching the team win a Stanley Cup you got to see them every step of the way and see how hard they work, it’s great for me and I think, if there wasn’t enough motivation to make the NHL, there’s one more thing right there,” Beach explained. “We travelled for the whole thing — went to Vancouver, went to San Jose, we were in Philly. The only one we weren’t there for was Nashville because we were still in the playoffs in Rockford. It’s honestly indescribeable. Sure, we didn’t play but we practiced every morning, we hung out, we relaxed, but being around those guys — watching them perform, watching them prepare, watching how much it meant to every single one of them and seeing their faces and their sigh of relief when [Pat Kane]’s goal went in — honestly, the experience was priceless.
“And there’s only one thing better than being that close and that would be lifting the Cup myself. I mean, that’s every kid’s goal and every kid’s dream, and that’s what we all want to do. To have the chance to play for the defending Stanley Cup champions would just be a great honour and a great opportunity.”
While many NHLers take a ‘look-but-don’t-touch’ approach to the Stanley Cup until they win it, Beach had his experienced forced upon him.
“I think I bumped into it once at the parade. It was beside me during the parade and I think I got pushed into it, but I really didn’t touch it,” Beach explained. “I’m not a superstitious guy — actually, I think I touched it once, maybe — but one guy touching the Cup isn’t going to affect 19 other guys. There’s 20 guys on the roster every night and 20 guys on the ice, one guy touching the Cup isn’t going to ruin that. [Beach laughs] I hope.”
Peters added that the experience that Beach and the rest of the Black Aces enjoyed should help them both in the short and long-term. “It’s outstanding. Anytime that kids can get called up and become Black Aces and be around it and see the excitement of it, but also see how hard the guys work and how professional they are in their approach to getting ready to play, win hockey games, and what they have to go through — there’s a lot that goes into it and for young guys to see that I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said.
Beach is hoping to earn an invitation to the Blackhawks’ main camp. From there, he hopes to fill the void left in the wake of his friend’s Dustin Byfuglien’s trade to Atlanta.
“It’s definitely unfortunate that he had to go, but with the salary cap and the new NHL here, things are going to happen. I try to model my game after him a bit. He’s a big body, stands in front, and he’s not afraid to crash and bang,” Beach added. “He’s one of the most hated players on the ice — especially in Vancouver — but he definitely plays a style that I think I can relate to and if I can mimic some of that, I think that’d be pretty good and could lead me in the right direction. He played a role that I’d love to take over and love to play, and I’d be willing to do whatever it takes to get that role.
“I have to thank him for showing me the way and helping me, and now we’ll go from there and it’s up to me.”
Peters explained he understands the nature of this business is to compare players, but he added that it’s important that Beach remains true to himself.
“I think he’s got to be Kyle,” Peters said. “I think everyone needs to be true to themselves and they know what they’re all about. But everyone always thinks that you play like a certain guy, or they have a certain player — in the hockey circles, as you know, everyone’s always comparing you to somebody else anyway. It happens to you when you’re a kid growing up and it’s something that stays with you. I think that everyone’s got their own, unique characteristics and individual habits.
“This is a guy who scored 50+ goals in the Western Hockey League, which is hard to do. I think he scored tonight on a pretty good release [through the] five hole. He finds a way to score and he’s a smart player. He gets himself open and if we can get him some guys who can get him the puck, he’ll be fine.”
However, Byfuglien isn’t the only one that Beach credits for assisting his transition to the pro ranks. In fact, he’s quite ready to share a laundry list of people with whom he credits any sense of comfort he has with the organization.
“Everybody’s helped out a lot, but right from the get-go I have to thank Dale Tallon for drafting me here. Unfortunately, he’s departed. I was also really close with Buff. I’m pretty close with Kaner [Pat Kane]. [Jonathan] Toews is good with everybody,” Beach explained. “That locker room is great. As soon as you step in there, you know you’re part of a tradition — part of a family — and they treat you like family. It’s a pretty easy transition and they all help you out. They’ll give you little pointers here and there. I trained with [Brent] Seabrook in the offseason.
“To have that opportunity to be around these great players — and they’re all young too, it’s one of the youngest teams in the NHL — it’s great.”
Beach has a history of robust play. In his rookie campaign, he racked up 196 PIMs. That was followed by seasons of 222, 165, and 186 minutes over three seasons with the Everett Silvertips, Lethbridge Hurricanes, and Spokane Chiefs in the WHL. But he used his hands as offensive weapons in every sense of the word. He scored 29 goals in his first full WHL season, following with seasons of 27 and 21 goals before last season’s 52-goal coming out party. That said, he’ll have to learn to manage penalties to take the next step, Peters explained.
“Penalties. Are they good penalties or are they bad penalties — that’s the thing you have to determine. Are you hurting yourself or are you hurting your team when you’re taking the penalties?” he said. “A lot of times are you sticking up for a teammate? If you’re sticking up for a teammate are you doing it at the right time and in the right situation, then those are the characteristics that you like.
“All of that is timing. There’s no clear-cut ‘should I stick up for a teammate in this situation or should I suck it up and take the power play?’ He’s got enough hockey sense that he knows how to figure that out.”
Despite playing in only eight AHL games, evenly split between the regular season and the playoffs, Beach believes he’s ready to jump to the top leve.
“The NHL is definitely the goal and I think it is a realistic possibility. I don’t think I’m that far off,” Beach said. “I do believe I have some work to do. I have to get faster and you can always get faster, stronger, shoot harder, receive passes better, better instincts, etcetera, etcetera. And there’s always work to do, but if I put in the work here and prove myself in camp and hold my own hopefully into the pre-season games, not to get ahead of ourselves but I think it’d be a great opportunity.
“If I can take care of business, I think it’s all on my shoulders at the end of the day.”
Peters said that Beach just needs to focus on who he is to reach that NHL goal. “He’s got to be a consistent player and he has to continue to be himself. He’s a power forward, so he’s got to keep going to the net hard, he’s got to generate offense, and he’s going to have to be hard guy to play against,” Peters explained. “He’s not ever going to be a guy who is going to get away with cheating. If he starts cheating to try to generate offense, then he’s gotten away from what he’s got to do. He’s got to finish checks hard, he’s got to be hard to play against, he has to be a bit abrasive, and keep guys on their toes.”
Again, Beach is taking nothing for granted — even looking for the opportunities that will be available to him if he doesn’t crack the NHL roster. And that could mean reuniting with Peters in Rockford.
“But if that doesn’t happen, I have no problem going down to Rockford and playing under Bill Peters, [assistant coach] Teddy Dent, and that staff,” Beach explained. “They have a lot that they can teach me as well and their goal at the end of the day is to help you get to the NHL as well. Going there, at the end of the day, there’d be nothing wrong with that.
“Obviously, it’d be a bit disappointing, but at the end of the day it’s on me as to where I end up.”