In any walk of life, when a summer of preparation and six months of plans are derailed in an instant, it can be unnerving. But for professional hockey players, who thrive on a routine of daily practices, afternoon rests, game nights and travel, the prospect of suddenly not being involved can be devastating to imagine.
But that’s the situation in which Kyle Beach found himself: after a shoulder injury sidelined the Blackhawks’ 2008 first round draft pick in late October – an injury that needed surgery and months of recovery time – Beach had an open schedule and none of his Rockford IceHogs teammates around to help fill it.
“When it first happened, all I did was go to rehab for about two hours a day, then go home and sit on my couch,” Beach recalls. “For a month before and after surgery, I couldn’t do any working out. They wouldn’t even let me ride the bike or walk on the treadmill.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing and I started going a little stir-crazy,” he admits now. “All of my teammates were at practice or on the road and I was just at home, not really doing anything.”
As alluring as daytime television can be, Beach needed an outlet for both his love of hockey and desire to remain part of the Rockford community, and IceHogs Vice President of Communications Mike Peck gave him the answer he was looking for: He signed on to coach a house team for the Rockford Park District’s “Jr. IceHogs” program.
"BEACHY ON THE AIRWAVES"
During his time in the IceHogs' broadcast booth, Kyle Beach says that he wanted to be honest but fair to his teammates
"A couple of the guys came up and thanked me after a couple of games. Their parents were listening and told them what I said. It was nice to hear.
"I’m not going to lie on the air, but if it wasn't positive, it wasn't going to be said. For instance, earlier in the year I said that I felt Brandon Bollig
was the most improved player on the team and he had been playing his best hockey. He came to me the next day and said thank you. But it wasn't necessary; I really meant it."
“We have guys going out to volunteer at practices around the city all the time; I help out every other week and I have always enjoyed doing it,” Beach says. “When Mike put the bug in my ear that a Jr. IceHogs team was looking for a coach, I saw it as a perfect opportunity to give back to the community.”
Kyle Beach isn’t prone to smiling; a player with that many penalty minutes is usually accompanied by a fearsome scowl. But ask Beach about his team of 9- and 10-year-olds and he lights up instantly. His coach-speak is impeccable, as well.
“We weren’t the most-skilled team, and we didn’t have the best players, but we played a good team game,” he says, still beaming. “We had two or three little superstars; one of our kids, whose name is Caleb, scored 12 of our first 14 goals of the season. By the end of the season, everyone was contributing.”
As if out of a Hollywood script, Coach Beach and his assistants turned the team into a winner. Beach’s crew finished the year with a record of 10-1-1 and fell just short of the league championship game. Despite the impressive record, Beach says that the final score wasn’t the team’s only measure of success.
“Coaching at that age is all about fun,” Beach says. “Coach Tom – the dad who helped me – was great. We both agreed that if we won, we won, and if not, then so be it. All of the kids played even minutes, and it was really enjoyable. It was an exciting time.”
Meanwhile, on nights where the Jr. IceHogs didn't play, Beach was back with his old team, but in a slightly different capacity: he joined Peck on the IceHogs' radio broadcasts.
"It was great, but I think Peck kicked me off... I've been told that we started getting messages saying fans wanted me instead of him," he jokes. "I really enjoyed my time in the booth, though. Mike made it very easy on me. You get to watch the game from above, which makes it so easy to see everything. It was a lot of fun and a great way for me to stay involved with the team."
For what it’s worth, Coach Beach says he plans to retire with his .875 winning percentage. Now fully recovered from his surgery, he is back in an IceHogs uniform and helping Rockford make a push for the playoffs. But he’s still in touch with his former team, who now supports his current one.
“I’ve seen at least half of my players at games, and they’re usually carrying signs,” Beach says. “A lot of the parents asked me if I would be coaching again, and unfortunately I really can’t with my schedule. But the kids enjoyed it, hopefully as much as I did.
”It’s unfortunate that I had to be injured, but I feel like I made the best of it while I was out. To step back into the lineup is a great feeling; it’s nice to be back in a playoff chase with the boys. Being part of the team is the thing I missed most.”