By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – Jason Becker‘s welcome-back-to-North-American-hockey moment came last Sunday morning.
The 32-year-old defenseman was a cramped-up mess, courtesy of the back-to-back games he’d played earlier in the weekend. What was worse was Becker and the Reading Royals had a third straight game that afternoon.
Three games in three days are an ECHL treat largely foreign to European leagues, where “Becks” spent the last six seasons.
“It’s a change for him,” Royals coach Karl Taylor said of the three-in-threes. “Usually they play two games a week over there. So Sunday he was a little bit sore and a little bit crampy, but that’s normal. We just fired the Pedialyte (oral electrolyte solution) into him.”
Becker skated well in the Royals’ opening weekend. He knocked in the team’s first goal of the season last Friday at Trenton, had an assist the next night against the Titans, and finished at minus-2 on the weekend.In last Sunday’s come-from-behind win against Pensacola, Becker was matched with rookie Rob LaLonde as the team’s top defensive pairing, and he chipped in on the power play and penalty kill. He’s expected to be a top-four D-man all season.
“We’re actually pretty lackadaisical there,” Becker said of Europe. “We play a Friday and Sunday each week. One on the road, one home. It’s a little tougher on the body (here), but it’s something that I’ve gotta get used to, and I know I will.”
Becker’s only prior pro experience in North America came at the end of the 1999-00 season, when he had a five-game stint with the Fresno Falcons of the now-defunct WCHL. He also had five seasons at the major-junior level and five at the University of Saskatchewan.
Some might be surprised that a 32-year-old who’s been in Europe for most of the last decade could step in and be such a valuable addition. But Taylor claims he knew exactly what he was getting when he lured Becker to Reading.
“He’s a very calming presence,” said Taylor, who watched Becker skate at the university level 10 years ago. “He doesn’t panic. Sometimes you have to check to see if he’s got a pulse, he’s so calm back there. But it’s real nice and calming for some of our younger D-men.
“He’s very skilled offensively. He’s gonna be able to create from the blue line and be a power-play guy for us and also be a consistent defensive guy.”
Becker spent four seasons in the second tier of the German Bundesliga, then two in the British Elite League, then had 37 points and 56 penalty minutes in 48 games last season with Heilbronn of the German Oberliga.
With Becker’s wife Jamie expecting the couple’s second child this fall (she gave birth Oct. 11), the 6-2 Saskatoon native began exploring a return to North America. He happened to be friends with another Canadian skating in Europe, Chad Allan, who just happened to be Taylor’s brother-in-law.
“Karl made me an offer I really couldn’t refuse,” Becker said. “I’m glad that I took it.”
So is the company that makes Pedialyte.