by Matt Trust | AHL On The Beat
In the passionate Hershey hockey community, fans might be familiar with the Calgary Hitmen, a Canadian major junior team in the Western Hockey League.
Although the familiarly might stem from the friendly competition of the Teddy Bear Toss record, the ties between the two clubs run deeper.
Hershey Bears forward Beck Malenstyn played parts of five seasons with the Hitmen and posted 99 points (48 goals, 51 assists) in 200 total games with Calgary. The bench boss for Malenstyn’s three full seasons in Calgary was Mark French, who coached the Bears to the 2010 Calder Cup.
Years later and now playing professional hockey, Malenstyn continues to praise his former head coach.
“I can’t say enough good things about French, and I’m sure the fans got that from him here,” said Malenstyn. “It was the same situation in Calgary as it is here with a lot of rookies during my first year, guys were in and out of the lineup just due to performance, and he always took time to walk us through our games.”
A bad game played, and French would pull Malenstyn into his office to go over the film. But perhaps just as important, the same approach was used when playing well. French called Malenstyn into his office to show what he did right. According to Malenstyn, the approach is consistent with how Bears first-year head coach Spencer Carbery operates.
As seen countless times in Hershey, the transition to professional hockey is never an easy one to predict for a player. One who has lived with a billet family in Canada during major juniors is now living an independent lifestyle. The player has to cook, clean, and take care of his physical well-being away from the rink.
“Once you get used to the responsibility and embrace it, it’s really fun to know that you have control on your own life and your own schedule,” said Malenstyn.
On the ice, the competition is stiffer. Rosters at the American Hockey League level are filled with high-end talent and players hungry for a shot at the National Hockey League. Individual players begin to find their identity when skating at a new level. Players evaluate their play constantly in effort to improve their abilities, while also looking up to those in the NHL they want to model their game after.
On a December 10 installment of the “Old Barn Hockey Show,” an interview with Carbery led to great praise of Malenstyn’s game through the first half of his first pro season.
“He’s our Tom Wilson,” said Carbery. “He has those characteristics in his game. He has to develop his skill a bit like Wilson has, make those adjustments, finish some more opportunities, but he has that hard, physical play, can skate, and blocks a ton of shots.”
Malenstyn was thrilled to learn of the high praise from his current head coach.
“It’s obviously a huge compliment coming down from Carbs, and it’s something I want to work towards. That’s a player I look at a lot. It is a similar style, and he’s put up some great numbers in the NHL right now, so it’s something I want to keep developing. I get a lot of chances, but I need to put more pucks in the net and create more plays. Watching his shifts is something I do, so it’s a great compliment.”
Being that it’s the offensive side of the game that Carbery and the Bears hope to see more of, it’s been encouraging to see flashes of brilliance of late. Look no further than a goal scored by Malenstyn on December 30 at Giant Center. In the first period, Malenstyn handled a bouncing puck in the neutral zone, chipped the puck forward to himself, bolted through the middle of the ice for a breakaway, and scored five-hole on Bruins goaltender Zane McIntyre.
Development is a long, unpredictable road. For Carbery and the Bears, the fun part about watching prospects is seeing them battle and grow on a day-to-day basis. Malenstyn continues to develop for the Bears, and has become the go-to player on Hershey’s penalty kill, which is near the top 10 in the AHL. While Malenstyn has made quite the impression early, there is still potential to be unearthed, and that excites Carbery moving forward.
“Beck knows his role and knows what type of player he is, and he plays that to a T, every single night,” said Carbery. “He’s got all the intangibles that make up a really good down-in-the-lineup NHL player. With that said, there is room to grow, and I think we’re going to see a lot of growth in the near future.”