The ECHL Alaska Aces captured the 2006 Kelly Cup, beating the Gwinnett Gladiators in five games. The 1-2 punch of veteran Matt Underhill and Chris Beckford-Tseu in net had lot to do with the team’s success, posting a combined save percentage of .920 in the playoffs. Underhill, 26, was ECHL Goaltender of the Year.
For his part, Beckford-Tseu had an 8-4 record, three shutouts, a goals against of 2.04, and a save percentage of .930 in the playoffs. He gave up six goals to the Gladiators in Game 4 of the finals, one blemish on an otherwise stellar record. In the regular season, he was an outstanding 16-1-2 with an 1.87 GAA and a .929 save percentage.
Alaska coach Davis Payne said Beckford-Tseu challenged Underhill during the regular season “probably about as well as anybody could. I think they both pushed each other. Right from Day 1 we were in a rotation scenario. It was almost like ‘anything you can do, I can do better,’ from both of them all year long. They both worked real well together, they worked on each other’s games together. They critiqued each other’s games very well. They were both very open to suggestions and input. I think it was a great environment for both guys.”
Of Beckford-Tseu’s strengths, Payne said “Obviously his athletic ability is No. 1. When his mental focus is on, he’s certainly as good as anybody in this league, and capable of taking the next step in the American League and then on further.”
Another strength is his stickhandling. He is not afraid to come out of his net to make passes to skaters, jump-starting the offense.
Everyone has things to work on, and Payne named conditioning as one area. “This is the first year that he got in a situation where he played a heavy workload and played on back to back nights. Certainly playoff competition has strengthened his mental game. He just needs to continue to make progress because he’s making it all the right ways.”
Beckford-Tseu said he enjoys the playoffs, which is good because he saw a lot of them this season. “It’s a lot more fun time of the year,” he said after Game 3 of the Kelly Cup finals. “The games are way more intense and every game means a lot more. If you have a bad night, that can be the end of your season.”
He almost certainly had more fun in Alaska than with the AHL Peoria Rivermen in the playoffs. He lost all four of his starts with Peoria as they were swept by the Houston Aeros in the first round. Afterwards he returned to Alaska, where he hadn’t started a game for two and a half months and started winning again – a lot.
The soon to be 22-year-old actually spent time at all three levels of pro hockey this season. He played 19 games in the ECHL with Alaska, 16 in the AHL with Peoria, and was a backup in St. Louis several times.
“It was an exciting year for me,” he said. “I was all over the place a little bit, but I got a chance to be up in St. Louis for a little while, got some American League games in and am having a great ride here.”
On Dec. 17, he was called up to St. Louis after Patrick Lalime was waived and backup Curtis Sanford injured. Beckford-Tseu was to back up Jason Bacashihua, who was making his first career start. The only problem was getting there. Alaska had just played the Victoria Salmon Kings. With Christmas approaching, virtually all flights out of Victoria were full. Both St. Louis and Alaska management were trying to find him a flight, to no avail. It was his mother who came through in crunchtime. He’s not quite sure how she did it.
“We were stick on Victoria Island there and there were no ferries or anything to get off. I guess she just scoured the Internet and finally found me a flight.”
He arrived just a few minutes before the Blues went on the ice for warm-ups. A local police officer would have been the backup if he didn’t make it on time.
“Yeah, that’s what I heard,” Beckford-Tseu said, laughing. “He was pretty close, he almost got his shot!”
Beckford-Tseu was called up again to back up in January, and again during the first week of April. Although he never saw game action, he said he learned a lot just by being there. He learned “quite a lot of things. How to carry yourself in that atmosphere. The plays that they make out there, you’re in awe a little bit sometimes. But you get used to it after a while.”
With so many call-ups and send downs, he admitted feeling “a little bit” pulled in all directions.
“There was a time there when I wasn’t sure if I was going to be staying in Peoria or what was going to happen, but towards the end of the season I finally got word that I was going to be there for the rest of the year. Unfortunately we lost pretty quick in the playoffs, but I got to come back here and it’s been great.
“I couldn’t really control any of it so it was better not to worry about it.”
A former fifth round pick in 2003, Beckford-Tseu is being brought along relatively slowly by the Blues, a safe development path for young goaltenders.
“It’s a good learning experience,” he said. “Learn the minors a little bit, gain some confidence, and hopefully make the jump soon.”
The 6’3 goaltender has size on his side. He’s gotten help along the way from goaltending coaches.
“I’ve been working with John Elkin probably since I was 15. He’s been great, he’s helped my game a lot and with the Blues Keith Allain. I think he’s done after this year. Both of them have help my game extremely.”
With Allain he did “a lot of movement drills. Trying to stay solid, compact, and good body control in my movements.”
One thing that might have posed a problem for him is that the new NHL rules are not being enforced in the ECHL yet this season. He said it wasn’t an issue.
“For me, not so much. I don’t really hook or slash too often.”
There’s some irony in this comment, however, as the very next night Beckford-Tseu was penalized for leaving the crease for being the third man in on a fight.
He has come a long way in his young career already. He said that the toughest time for him was in 2001-02, his first year in the OHL. Beckford-Tseu began the year with the Guelph Storm.
“I think I played maybe three games up to Christmas,” he said. “I was sitting in the stands most of the time waiting for a trade. I finally got traded to Oshawa at the deadline and they sent me right back to Tier II. I got called up at the end of the year and ended up starting in the playoffs.”
Thus far in his career, he’s been fortunate to be without any major injuries. Last year a nagging ankle injury kept him out a couple games several times.
“Yeah, knock on wood (tapping head). A little bit last year, I had a high ankle sprain which bothered me pretty much the whole year, but other than that I’ve been lucky so far.”
The second-year pro enjoyed living in Anchorage, a long way from his native Toronto. The city had the best attendance in the league during the playoffs.
“Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. The scenery’s great and the fans are second to none there. They’re unbelievable. We’ve got a camera crew following us here and it’s the East Coast league. A lot of American League teams don’t even have that.”
Beckford-Tseu played in Peoria both seasons, but last year the city had an ECHL franchise. He said the atmosphere didn’t really change as the leagues changed.
“Not too much. There’s a good fanbase there too. We had a good team this year so we were getting pretty decent crowds. So pretty much the same as last year. A little better this year so the crowds were a little bit better.”
After such a successful season, and a relatively open camp, he aims high on his goals for next season.
“I want to hopefully make the Blues next year and just see what happens. Have a good summer and keep training and just be ready to play during camp.”
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.