Our Friend, Kyle Beach

An Emmy-winning reporter who has worked for the Los Angeles Kings and NHL Network, Jon Rosen spent four years riding buses in the Western League as the Everett Silvertips’ radio play-by-play announcer. Kyle Beach also played in Everett for parts of four seasons and was drafted 11th overall by Chicago in 2008. The two remain good friends since meeting in 2007 and connected last month in Germany, where Beach plays for the Oberliga’s Erfurt Black Dragons. 

In the aftermath of TSN journalist Rick Westhead’s conversation with Beach on Oct. 27 about former Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich’s alleged sexual assaults, Rosen wrote this column on his connection with someone who often drew unfair scrutiny and undue pressure during his major junior days, through his draft year, and into his professional career. He found Kyle to be a more mature version of the person he’s largely always been: intelligent, charming, family-oriented and a pot-stirrer. Importantly, he also found him to be healing and on excellent footing after having endured unimaginable trauma.

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I deeply enjoy hockey vernacular. There’s an unmistakable, juvenile bounce to it. Gitch, dusters, beauties, dummied, take your pick. “Take your mouthguard out, buddy” is a great chirp when an opponent is making a lot of noise with only a little grammar. I once heard a coach say to a goalie on the brink of turning pro that “the league you’re going to doesn’t have three letters, it has four,” a brusque observance that he was bound not for the highly competitive AHL, but the East Coast Hockey League – known sardonically as the Cheese Toast.

So, I was very happy to learn more about the o-beer-league-a and make plans to visit an old friend playing in the third-tier German league. Much more commonly known as the Oberliga, I did find the colloquialism to be at least somewhat accurate. On the final night before their first regular season game last month, I was hospitably welcomed at an Oktoberfest celebration by my friend, his universally younger Erfurt Black Dragons teammates, and lots of large beers on a warm early fall night in central Germany.

It was an international group, with Germans, Canadians and a Pole, and everyone was friendly. At the start of a season and with younger, fresher faces, the newer teammates became comfortable as they sipped from large glass mugs, and as dusk gave way to night, those with tenure who’d previously gravitated to one corner of the long table were now scattered throughout. It was a safe, friendly space.

“So, you were picked 11th, and you never played one game? Why?”

Under typical circumstances, this question, asked by a player in their early 20’s, would be ungraceful. But to my friend, Kyle Beach, whose secret identity until Wednesday was John Doe #1 in the investigation into the sexual assaults allegedly committed upon multiple individuals by former Chicago Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich while he worked at the NHL, NCAA and high school levels, it’s a question that spawns its own universe of horrific memories, complex emotional compartmentalization, and, thankfully, revitalized mental health.

Kyle answered with a truth. That he was well-positioned to make a transitional Chicago team out of training camp in 2011 but suffered a shoulder injury that limited him to 19 AHL games. That rookies Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith and Brandon Bollig then occupied the edgier depth roles he’d been primed for as a power forward with a whip of a release and 773 penalty minutes over 251 WHL games (which according to HockeyFights.com included 50 fights). That the Blackhawks were in a quasi-dynasty and trying to usurp a forward’s spot in the first half of the last decade was about as easy as a clean zone entry against Marian Hossa’s backcheck.

He didn’t share that he had been sexually assaulted by his video coach.

Predators prey on the vulnerable, and Kyle checked so many boxes as a target. He was a young player with a history of discipline issues, away from family and living alone, and trying hard to avoid disturbing the balance of a late Stanley Cup playoff run, or as tragic as it sounds, risk ridicule and alienating himself from team management and players now under question for sustaining a toxic dressing room culture.

According to the investigation into Brad Aldrich’s alleged sexual assaults conducted by law firm Jenner & Block, it was shared that Chicago coaches encouraged Kyle and the other playoff call-ups to “request video clips from Aldrich and use Aldrich as a resource.” Two players recalled that “Aldrich provided them with advance notice and intelligence on the Blackhawks’ lineup for game days,” early ingratiating moments from which he sought to exploit a lopsided power dynamic.

Even as a teenager before the WHL bantam draft, Beach’s lapses in decision-making were as well-known as his wrist shot throughout minor hockey communities. Midway through his 17-year-old season, he’d become persona-non-grata in visiting U.S. Division arenas. While in Everett, he ridiculed Milan Lucic’s posture before a fight. With Lethbridge, he snapped a puck in frustration at the end of a game that hit a fan in the crowd. As an AHL playoff call-up in Rockford, a disagreement with Akim Aliu escalated into a food fight and both players were sent home.

For years, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy validating those who spoke negatively about his character, often without knowing him. What does it do to someone’s sense of worth when there are fans, reporters, broadcasters questioning and criticizing them before they’re even old enough to drive? What happens when that din amplifies during a draft year in which he’s constantly associated with controversial narratives rather than the impact of his north-south power game or a willingness to take on the league’s top heavyweights like Lucic and Aaron Boogaard?

The commotion around Kyle never noted that he’d call the Silvertips’ 14 and 15-year-old bantam picks to welcome them to the organization. This was the Kyle who lent a teammate a large sum of money for car repairs after he’d gotten into a bad wreck while driving down to Everett. The Kyle whose memories trigger ear-to-ear smiles as former coaches flip through their unconventional, occasionally anti-authoritative, often dazzling and endearing and always loud-mouthed rolodex of Kyle Beach memories. Memories like when he and Radko Gudas unstrapped the opposite’s helmet to skirt a new WHL fighting rule before squaring away. Or when he was 16 and took possession of a broadcaster’s phone and swapped his own number with the broadcaster’s wife. Or, during his first WHL call-up as a floppy-haired 15-year-old, yelling “load the bus, rookies!” as he laughed and for several minutes succeeded at occupying a veteran’s seat at the back of the Silvertips’ bus.

Ten long years later, he returned to Everett during the 2017 WHL championship, and with a sage honesty shared what he learned, loved, regretted and could have handled differently in his career, not yet having radically accepted the trauma whose symptoms he was not yet equipped to effectively process.

As those thoughts festered, his outlook grew bleak. Extraordinary bleak. For 10 months a year he was in Europe, speaking a foreign language, away from family. So much downtime in hockey can lead to dark places, particularly for those with dozens of fights to their names, and Kyle’s own wiring was understandably off-kilter. How many memories were triggered and then sublimated whenever the Blackhawks came up in conversation? How can someone so matter-of-factly handle questions about never playing an NHL game when so much scarring lurks just below the surface?

Because that resilience – and the courage exuded in his TSN interview – were always there. And in his darkest times, those who loved him and embraced him helped bring it out of him and rechart his course. His girlfriend Bianca played an enormous role. So did his family, his Kelowna-based therapist, and Paul Henry, a prominent sports psychologist and former Florida, Phoenix and Team Canada scout beloved by the many junior and professional players he’s worked with. And today, Kyle is a renewed person. He’s positive and prepared to answer questions about his history without judgement because he spoke up and sought help, which unleashed waves of empathy and opened doors towards counseling and treatment. And, over the last week, the unified love of the hockey world.

So many wretched details poke even more holes in the flimsy veneer once known as hockey culture. Everywhere in the investigation, there was a preference on behalf of those allegedly assaulted to not “disturb team chemistry” or in some way harm their careers. They were subject to demeaning ridicule. Reading the details, it’s hard to take any silver-haired hockey executive at face value when they disparage a player’s character or an inability to get along well with a group of players.

Character is reliving the most painful part of one’s life on national television and emerging emboldened. It’s maintaining composure and attempting to forge a positive attitude while being forced to work every day alongside a sexual predator and then watch him traipse around the Midwest with the Stanley Cup. It’s the removal of one’s self from a dark road by relying on family and community assistance to address symptoms of extreme trauma head-on.

Composure. Resilience. Catharsis. Whatever abstract noun applies to the man who shouldered blame after learning years later that Aldrich had assaulted a high school hockey player applies here. “I’m sorry I didn’t do more when I could to make sure it didn’t happen to him. To protect him,” Beach said during his Wednesday interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead. This is raw, unsullied character.

If only those whose three weeks of pitiful inaction atop the Blackhawks’ hierarchy had Kyle’s character, then a team intern wouldn’t have been assaulted in a taxi after a Stanley Cup party by a predator who sordidly exploited an indifferent organization’s power dynamic. “The employee wanted to ensure that Aldrich would serve as a reference for him for future employment in the hockey industry and did not want to risk Aldrich or Aldrich’s father being an issue for a future job,” the Jenner & Block investigation wrote.

If hockey culture influenced the avoidance of reporting a sexual assault so a victim could maintain a positive association with their perpetrator, then the previously held interpretation of hockey culture is dead and not worth reviving.

That wasn’t at all representative of Kyle and his own community. Lingering in the beer tent, we finished drinks and returned to the apartment he shared with Erfurt’s captain who had insisted on cooking us Käsespätzle for dinner even when dressed in lederhosen earlier in the evening. Another veteran teammate close with Kyle and his roommate joined, eager to continue the conversation from the beer tent. The lack of an international break in the Oberliga solicited eye rolls when it came up in discussion, as did the DEL’s liberal inclusion of largely North American import players, which affected the domestic hierarchy. By the time we’d convened on the balcony and looked out at a much quieter Erfurt residential block, there was a comfortable sense of communal satisfaction. Nebulous as the abstract narratives attached earlier to his career, there was a sincere, uplifting energy elicited by reconnecting with an old friend and finding common ground in our own experiences.

I received a text from Kyle the next morning as I changed trains to catch an early flight out of Frankfurt. “Last night is exactly what I love about the hockey world,” he wrote. “The people you meet and the friendships you will always have!”