Prior to last weekend, the Wolf Pack’s Kyle Beach had only tasted of pro hockey life with one organization, that being the defending Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks, who drafted the 6-3, 210-pound wing 11th overall in 2008.
That all changed last Friday, though, when the Wolf Pack’s parent club, the New York Rangers, traded for Beach, dealing fellow winger Brandon Mashinter to Chicago in exchange. According to Beach, who had spent the entirety of his previous North American pro experience with the Rockford IceHogs, it has been a refreshing change for him.
“So far it’s been good,” he said Wednesday. “The guys have been great, the coaching staff, all the staff, has really been good to me and they’ve made it a lot easier moving out here. I got back to Rockford to get some belongings, so I don’t just have the clothes on my back and a suit any more, so it’s been good.”
With the move from Blackhawks to Rangers, Beach went from one “Original Six” organization to another, and he has noticed only a slightly different feel to the two teams’ approaches.
“I think every organization’s different and every organization has their own way of doing things,” he said. “It’s very minor things, like practice times. In Rockford we had to be at the rink at ten and on the ice at eleven, instead of nine and ten. It’s just little things, but other than that I think both organizations are very high-class and they both take care of their players, and I think that shows, obviously, in how they’ve treated me so far since I’ve been here.”
One thing that will definitely be different for Beach is getting a good look at the eastern side of North America. A native of Kelowna, British Columbia, Beach played Junior Hockey in the Western Hockey League, and the IceHogs’ schedule never took them into the Eastern Conference. Thus, he had never been to Hartford before joining the Wolf Pack, and his previous experience with the East Coast was very limited.
“Been out to Boston for a week, a couple of years ago in the summer, but that’s about it,” Beach said. “I haven’t had a lot of time here to get out and see the city, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a bigger city than Rockford, it’s close to big cities, so far everybody’s been really friendly and accommodating, and it’s nice.”
In addition to a new home city, Beach will be getting introduced to a whole new set of opponents, Wolf Pack rivals that he never saw while playing in the Western Conference.
“You hear the rumors, some people call it two different leagues, as far as the styles of play,” he said. “And being out in the West you don’t even get to see any of the (Eastern) teams, you don’t get to watch any of the teams, unless you subscribe to AHL Live. So it’s definitely going to be something I’m going to have to adjust to here, but I don’t think it will take too long and hopefully I can just go out and play.”
The trade continued a pattern of this year being marked by a certain degree of upheaval for the 23-year-old Beach. He started the season over in Sweden, on loan to HV 71 Jonkoping, then returned to Rockford October 24, playing seven games with the IceHogs before the trade went down.
“It’s been an interesting year for sure, and a lot of travel, but it seems like I can’t stay anywhere more than a month,” Beach said. “So hopefully I can settle down here and find a home, and hopefully move forward with this new experience and this new opportunity, and a new organization and with a new team, and hopefully I can take advantage of that.”
Beach had come to the Chicago organization surrounded by very high hopes, but had gone three full seasons without ever getting into an NHL game. In view of that, the possibility of a trade was something that did not come out of the blue for him.
“It was something that had come up,” Beach said. “I had been back in Rockford now for I think it was 14 games, and I had only played seven. It’s kind of been like that the last couple of years, haven’t been getting a lot of ice time, and we just felt that for my career and things, it was the best opportunity for me to get a fresh start and a fresh look somewhere, and hopefully get the opportunity to take my career to the next level.”
Beach’s Swedish experience was a short one, only seven games with HV 71, and an unusual opportunity, as North American players who are under NHL contract rarely are loaned to European teams. For Beach, the chance to go overseas came as a result of his having piqued the interest of HV 71 over the summer.
“I got put on waivers, as I had to be to get sent down to Rockford,” Beach said, “and I was over there (Sweden) for a week this summer, just to train and try to get in the best shape I could before training camp. And I guess as soon as I got put on waivers, they started calling and texting. So the opportunity was brought to me, and it was something that we debated long and hard, and I think the opportunity came up on a Tuesday and I was on a plane, gone, on Saturday.
“So it all happened quick, but again, with the situation I was in in Chicago, with how deep they are with prospects and how good they are up top, we looked at it and thought that would be the best opportunity to improve my game. Then once I got over there, they had a bunch of guys injured, and once they were healthy I think we had 16 or 17 forwards. So it became a numbers game again, and it was the type of thing where we looked at it and decided that it would be better to come back, see how it was working out in Rockford and Chicago, and if worst comes to worst, ask for a trade. And that’s the situation it came to, and here I am.”
The Wolf Pack received Beach just as his scoring touch was heating up, as he had tallied four goals in his last two games with the IceHogs, including a hat trick on Rockford’s “Teddy Bear Toss” night the previous Saturday.
“I feel that my shot is probably one of my best assets of my game and I look to use it,” Beach said. “And fortunately Teddy Bear Toss night it kind of went my way, and then the last game, I think it was first shift of the game we were able to get another one off of a three-on-two.
“I think a lot of credit has to go to my linemates there, I was finally given an opportunity to play with a couple of guys that have a lot of skill (center Drew LeBlanc, last year’s Hobey Baker Award-winner at St. Cloud State, and left-winger Terry Broadhurst), and they found me and all I had to do was put it in the net.”
Beach is a right-handed shot, but has been slotted on left wing since joining the Wolf Pack, something that is not at all new to him.
“I’ve actually played a lot of left wing, some in Rockford, a lot in Juniors,” he said. “I think three out of my four years in Juniors I played all on the left side.
“I actually prefer the left side, just for when I’m coming into the zone and attacking. It gives you a better angle to shoot. And if you do cut to the middle, you can see the entire ice and you’re still able to make plays, and able to protect the puck a little bit better, whether you’re driving the net wide and you’ve got it on your backhand, or cutting to the middle. You keep the puck away from the defenders.
“I like playing the left side, but I’m comfortable with playing both. So I feel like I’ll probably bounce around a little bit, but wherever they need me to play, I’m willing to play there and I’ll do it to the best of my ability.”
Beach’s linemates in practice this week were center Oscar Lindberg and right wing Danny Kristo. That made for a pretty diverse group, with the Western Canadian Beach teaming up with the Swedish Lindberg and the American Kristo.
“United Nations, maybe? I don’t know,” Beach joked about the combination. “But they’re both great players. They’re easy to play with, played with Lindy (Lindberg) both games last weekend and with Kristo on Sunday. They’re both smart players and they make it easy jumping in with them, because they are so smart and such skilled players, that I’ve just got to do my job and I can trust that they’ll take care of theirs.”
Perhaps the best aspect of the trade for Beach is the chance to get away from the pressure of having been such a high draft pick in the Blackhawks organization, and carrying the mantle of having to live up to that.
“I’m just trying to put that behind me now, and I’m just another player,” he said. “I’m trying to earn a spot and earn an opportunity, obviously, with the big club in New York, but we’re just going to take it day by day and see where it goes.”