News Journal correspondent
©The Pensacola News Journal
PENSACOLA, Fla. – Pensacola’s new additions have propelled the Ice Pilots to new heights this season.
A new coach, new goaltender and new affiliations have breathed new life into the franchise during owner Tim Kerr’s second season.
However, one of the biggest reasons behind Pensacola’s surge to the top of the ECHL ladder is a holdover from last season.
Center Tyler Beechey has established himself as an elite player in the ECHL this season. The third-year pro leads the league with 60 points. Beechey already has scored 23 goals this season, two short of his total for last year when he was the third-leading scorer on the team.
Beechey recently was selected as the ECHL player of the month for January and was a starter for the American Conference during last month’s All-Star game.
Beechey’s maturation from a solid contributor to a nightly difference maker and team captain perhaps has come to fruition sooner than expected, but it hasn’t surprised anyone.
“It couldn’t have happened to a better individual,” linemate Dwayne Hay said. “We have some great chemistry. He’s never down and out. He had a real successful first season, made good things happen last year and he’s kept the ball rolling this season.”
Pensacola coach Dave Farrish was excited to have Beechey on his inaugural Ice Pilots squad.
“I really respected the way he played last year,” Farrish said. “I was looking forward to working with him to really get him to kick it up that one extra notch. He’s a well-liked person, an unbelievably hard worker and he’s one of the best players in the league.”
Raised in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Beechey comes from athletic roots.
His father, Roy, was a wide receiver and defensive back for five seasons in the Canadian Football League. He built a backyard rink for his son when the younger Beechey was just two years old.
“My father taught me how to skate when I was two or two and a half,” Beechey said. “I’d play in the backyard all the time. I played with a lot of the kids in town because (Edmonton) is a pretty big hockey community.”
Hockey wasn’t the only sport Beechey played growing up. Soccer, basketball and lacrosse made Beechey a year-round athlete. But hockey shaped his future.
At age 14, Beechey entered the junior hockey draft in Canada. After breaking in with Edmonton of the Western Hockey League in 1997-98, Beechey left home and played for Kootenay three full seasons from 1998-2001.
“I had to leave home at 16 and went and lived with a billet family,” Beechey said. “My parents were excited for me. My mom was sad to see me go, but she understood.”
At Kootenay, Beechey registered 137 points in 188 games. His numbers got better as he got older. In his final full season there, Beechey scored 72 points in 70 games.
“I started to realize I could maybe go pro,” Beechey said. “Some of the older guys I played with were moving on and playing professionally and doing well. I started to see some things could happen.”
A rule in the WHL permits each team to maintain two 20-year-old players on each roster. Barely 20, Beechey was traded from Kootenay to Calgary for his final year of junior hockey. The trade could not have worked out better.
In Calgary during the 2001-02 season, Beechey was selected to the WHL All-Star roster and scored 44 goals along with 53 assists in just 67 games.
“Calgary is a great city to play in,” Beechey said. “I also got to live with my parents’ best friends, so it was really good for me.”
Beechey attended his first professional training camp the following season with the St. Louis Blues. He eventually was assigned to the Trenton (N.J.) Titans of the ECHL, where Beechey spent his rookie season.
Toward the end of the season, Beechey was called up to Providence of the American Hockey League, where he made a quick impression. Beechey scored two goals during his three games there, but hasn’t been back to the AHL since.
Beechey’s performance this season might soon change that, but the even-keeled 24-year-old takes the hockey lifestyle in stride.
“It would’ve been nice (to stay in the AHL),” Beechey said. “Those are things I don’t have any control over though. Everyone thinks they belong there.”
After his rookie season, Beechey was shipped to Pensacola in exchange for defenseman Ryan O’Keefe, who was reacquired by the Ice Pilots this past off-season.
It was the second time in Beechey’s career he was traded. And for the second time, it couldn’t have worked out any better.
Beechey has not only elevated his game, he has built bonds with his teammates he hopes will be lasting ones.
Beechey lives with linemate Aaron Phillips and Ryan Vince. His girlfriend moved here from Edmonton to spend the season with him.
It’s no coincidence the friends off the ice perform so well on it. The line of Beechey, Phillips and Hay is one of the top lines in the league.
“Aaron and I spend a lot of time together off the ice,” Beechey said. “He came up to see me over the summer in Edmonton and it’s our second year living together. He’s one of the most underrated players in the entire league. It helps out a great deal when you play with guys who have skill.”
“The bond of our friendship carries over to the ice very well,” Hay said. “We know where each other is going to be all the time. Whenever you can have that type of relationship it works out well.”
During the summer, Beechey’s attention turns to his other favorite pastime — golf.
“I spent most of my time on the golf course during the off-season,” Beechey said. “My’s dad’s passion is golf. I’m about a five or six handicap. My favorite course here is Glen Lakes.”
The list of elite players to come through Pensacola is a short one, and based on his performance this season the free-agent-to-be might not be back for an encore.
“The goal is to move up,” Beechey said. “If I got a chance (to move up next season) I’d definitely jump at it. But if I were to return to the ECHL, Pensacola would be No. 1 on my list.”