By Kirk Wessler
Executive Sports Editor/Columnist
Peoria Journal Star
PEORIA, Ill. – Even if Chris Beckford-Tseu were not tall, strong and ridiculously quick in goal, he would be impossible to ignore on the hockey rink.
Man, those pads and gloves are . . . um, bright.
“Brings out the yellow in the uniform,” the Rivermen rookie says with a smile.
Well, that’s one way to look at the pads. If indeed you can bear to look. Blue is the Rivermen’s primary color. Yellow is merely the accent. Beckford-Tseu’s pads are more like an optical haymaker. Two minutes, roughing the eyes.
Look past the flashing yellow, though, and you’ll see a 20-year-old kid with the physical tools to become an NHL goalie. Maybe even a great one someday.
He’s 6-3, 205 pounds, and moves like a cat – for better or worse.
For better: “He has size, athleticism, skates well, handles the puck well, and his rebound awareness is very good,” St. Louis Blues goal-tending coach Keith Allain says. “He’s been in our camp twice, and he performed very well at both.”
For worse: “He tends to have a lazy stick,” Allain says. “He needs to protect the middle a little better with his stick. Sometimes he’s a little too casual.”
Both aspects of “Becks” were on full display Saturday night, during the Rivermen’s 4-3 ECHL victory over Dayton at Carver Arena. He made several top-shelf saves, thwarting Dayton’s best shots of the game. But the Bombers scored once when the puck slow-mo’d into the goal off Beckford-Tseu’s skate as he knelt in the crease, and they scored another when he dozed on a slap shot from his left; the puck skipping off his chest and arm and into the nets.
Allain speculated those lapses might be attributed to Beckford-Tseu’s lack of stamina. With veteran goalie Alfie Michaud on the injured list, the Saturday game was Beck’s third start and fourth appearance in eight days. No relief was coming from the bench, either. Serving as the Rivermen’s emergency backup was assistant coach Luke Gruden, who says he hasn’t tended goal in a game since his pee-wee days.
Speaking of Gruden, Rivermen fans might want to give him some credit for the team’s four-game winning streak. During the last three games of that string, he has been the sole available backup at goalie.
“Motivation,” Gruden says he provides the Rivermen. “They don’t want to see me between the pipes.”
More to the point, though, the Rivermen’s skaters have stepped up their intensity, and they’re getting solid work in goal from Beckford-Tseu. He shut out Wheeling on Dec. 5 and carries a 2.75 goals-against average for the season.
His abundant skill is evident.
What he needs, according to retired goalie Duane Derksen, is “a lot of hard work, hard work and more hard work.”
“That’s the key, straight up,” says Derksen, who helped lead the Rivermen to the 2000 Kelly Cup championship. “It’s a long process, and some guys never get it. You have to work hard all the time and focus on getting better every day. And you have to make sure everybody in the organization sees you working hard and make sure everyone around you knows you’re getting better.”
Getting seen is the easy part, especially with those pads. A replacement set has been ordered, and the new pads are even brighter yellow than the ones he wears now, Beckford-Tseu says.
What he needs is to keep getting the job done and prove his future is indeed as bright as those pads.