Criticism is water under the bridge for Beach
OTTAWA -- We watched pretty closely and we're almost positive that when Kyle Beach walked up to the podium shortly before 9 p.m. and pulled on a Chicago Blackhawks jersey, there were no horns sticking out of his head. Neither was there a pointy tail dragging behind him.Not that you wouldn't have fully expected to see either the way the 18-year-old from Kelowna, British Columbia, has been demonized in the weeks leading up to the draft. In an interview a few hours before he became the 11th overall selection in the 2008 draft, Beach admitted that in all of the 28 interviews he had, teams were much more interested in his head space than his foot speed.
In most of the pre-draft scouting reports, the 6-foot-2, 202-pound Beach was likened to Sean Avery for his ability to annoy and agitate opposing players and coaches. And those were the complimentary references.
Even his Everett Silvertips head coach, John Becanic, and GM Doug Soetaert have acknowledged in the past that Beach's short fuse and penchant for taking bad penalties can end up hurting his team.But here's the thing: When you meet him, Beach is unwaveringly polite and thoughtful. He acknowledges that he has brought much of this unwanted attention on himself and hopes the draft will allow him an opportunity to create a new image, that of an NHLer. But there also has been more than a little mythologizing that has gone on around Beach. Beach said that at almost every interview leading up to the draft, a new rumor was presented to him to either acknowledge or debunk. One team told him it had heard he'd stalked an opposing player to his home. Not true. The same team told him it had heard that he beat a garbage collector with a baseball bat. "Something about me not wanting my garbage collected," Beach said with a shrug of his shoulders. "Every time they'd grill me on different rumors or things they'd heard about me, different facts they'd heard because not everything out there is a rumor." There was the time he mimicked being a hunchback to current Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic, who has a medical condition involving the curvature of his spine, prompting the Western Hockey League to warn him about inappropriate behavior. And he did put on an "Team Ontario" sign over a Team Canada jersey at an under-18 national team event, but insists it was a joke among teammates and neither the coaching staff, trainers or fans saw it. Still, it was a joke that didn't go over well with Hockey Canada officials. The big forward acknowledged the constant grilling on his antics, real or imagined, has been taxing. "It definitely was a bit of a stressful time," Beach said. Still, he understood the teams' needs to find out just what kind of person they were dealing with. "They need to make sure they're making the right decisions. This is something that could be a multimillion-dollar decision," he said. He recalled one team questioning him on a play a scout saw when he was 15 years old, when he iced the puck on a couple of shifts. The scouts suggested this was the mark of a lazy player. Again, Beach shrugged his shoulders. "I'm sorry I panicked when I was 15," he said. "I just tried to be as honest as possible." Beach is the older of two boys. His younger brother, Cody, 15, was a draft pick of the Western Hockey League's Calgary Hitmen. His father, Brian, is a civil engineer. His mother, Rhonda, is a middle school teacher and she has been especially stung by the criticism of her son. "My brother makes fun of me for it. But my mom's the protective one in the family," Beach said.
The rule in the family growing up was that unless Beach kept a B average at school, there was no hockey. Even after he moved away from home to play major junior hockey in Everett, Beach managed to maintain an A average, he said. Hardly the background of the maniac hood Beach is often likened to. But not everyone thinks Beach is a psycho killer. Longtime scout and sports psychologist Paul Henry told ESPN.com Friday he has known Beach for four years and thinks he's going to be a fine NHL player. "Everyone loves the beach, right?" Henry said. "Everybody's going to love this Kyle Beach, whichever team gets him, he's going to become their favorite beach." As a player, Henry said Beach has a body shape that reminds him of Gordie Howe. There are questions about his skating and Beach did see his production drop off in the second half of this past season after a concussion and sports hernia. But scouts also say he might be the most talented player in the draft and the Blackhawks are certainly hoping he is able to join an impressive cast of youngsters helping revive hockey in Chicago. "Sure, he's a little volatile. But that's something that we need," GM Dale Tallon told ESPN.com. "It's going to be a good fit for us." As for Beach's behavior, Tallon said he was impressed how forthright and honest he was in answering questions.
"He took responsibility for his actions," Tallon said.Whether Beach can follow in the footsteps of Chicago's No. 1 pick a year ago, Patrick Kane, who stepped into the Blackhawks' lineup as an 18-year-old and won rookie of the year honors, remains to be seen. But Tallon said Beach will be given every opportunity, and in fact imagines a time in the not-too-distant future when Beach might line up with Kane and the Blackhawks' other super rookie from last year, Jonathan Toews -- demon or not. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.