New York Rangers legend Barry Beck turning children into believers

NHL veteran is hoping to foster new talent in schools through academy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 9:53pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 9:53pm

Hong Kong is still free of the grip of the ice age, much to the mortification of New York Rangers legend Barry Beck.

But while ice time is scarce and ice-time fees are high, the biggest obstacle Beck is facing are the closed minds of the "non- believers", who refuse to accept ice hockey can become a middle-of-the-road sport in this city.

"The non-believers - they are the biggest problem for me," says Beck, who is leading a crusade to educate Hong Kong youngsters that ice hockey is more than just an excuse for grown-ups to wear skates and fight on ice.

The biggest challenge for me now is to stay focused in our direction amidst the constraints we face
Barry Beck 

"Yes, for sure we face various constraints in promoting and developing ice hockey," says Beck. "It is the reality of ice hockey in Hong Kong at this point in time. But as a coach, I teach that there are no excuses and you just have to stay focused and find a way to achieve your goal."

Beck, 56, was hired by Thomas Wu to run the Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey in 2007 and sports superb credentials.

He took over the captaincy of the New York Rangers in 1980 when he was 23 - the second-youngest captain in Rangers history - and was at the helm for five years. He is now facing one of his biggest challenges in his life and is showing the same characteristics that made him one of the most imposing defencemen in the National Hockey League.

"I came to Hong Kong upon the invitation of Thomas Wu to help promote and develop the sport of ice hockey locally and throughout Asia. I came because I believed in his vision and strategy of creating essential partnerships with organisations that drive the sport in a positive direction. The difficult part for me is being away from my teenage son and family," Beck said.

Our main priority is to give an opportunity to as many local kids as we can reach to experience the thrill of the sport
Barry Beck

After injuries forced an early retirement in 1990, Beck returned to his hometown Vancouver where he coached youth programmes and operated an ice hockey school developing sport-specific training in Canada. The transition has been huge, coming from a part of the world where the sport is revered.

"When you assume a leadership role you have to be able to make adjustments as quickly as you do in a game. I grew up in Vancouver, which supports a large Chinese population so it felt very natural for me to visit Asia at some point in my life. I was excited when the opportunity presented itself to travel abroad," Beck said.

Beck is convinced that, despite all the hurdles, Hong Kong can develop a culture for ice sports. "The future is still taking shape but it is heading in a positive direction," Beck said. "Our main priority is to give an opportunity to as many local kids as we can reach to experience the thrill of the sport.

"We are an academy, so combining academics and athletics, we believe, is an important part in a child's development. School and youth programmes will help initiate growth in the pool of players as well as awareness in the culture of the sport.

"Our achievements at the academy are not measured by wins and losses. We live in a competitive world driven by the need for success. Some find that in how many medals you win and others in self-worth.

"As a coach I want to share my own experiences with our students. To help them understand the attitude and commitment it takes to be a responsible teammate who can make a difference with their contribution.

"The aim is to turn out students who have the confidence and courage to face adversity and to understand their responsibility and to give back to the game as others before them. That will be a great achievement."

Beck added: "My biggest achievement in my life was becoming a father. Next I would have to say I was very proud to be captain of the New York Rangers for five years. The biggest challenge for me now is to stay focused in our direction amidst the constraints we face. Ice time is scarce and ice-time fees are extremely high in Hong Kong.

"The facilities we use are in shopping malls and they have their commercial considerations and priorities and cannot always accommodate our needs.

"This can be frustrating, as interest in the sport is increasing and we try to accommodate growing numbers. One way of doing this is to devise complementary training strategies, such as inline skating training in an attempt to overcome insufficient ice time."