by Tom Witosky | AHL On The Beat
When Colton Beck arrives at the rink each day, he always checks the team’s electronic bulletin board to see how he’ll spend his day on the ice.
One day, the 27-year-old Langley, BC native will be working at left wing. The next day, it might be center. And in a pinch, the lefty shooter could find himself on the right side.
“I’ve been used in just about every different situation there is throughout my career,” the veteran forward said. “Some years it has been wing more than center, but this year it seems to be more center. I just take every day in stride and help the team to win.”
Beck, along with several other Wild players like ZacK Mitchell, Justin Kloos and Gerry Mayhew, are learning to become more versatile on the ice, an important characteristic for hockey players trying to get to the National Hockey League.
“It’s players like Colton that right now have us inside looking out instead of last year when we were outside looking to get in to the playoffs,” head coach Derek Lalonde said. “He has been very good for us because he can play in every situation.”
Beck, who is approaching the 200th game mark as a three-year member of Iowa Wild, already has set a personal season record for total points with 24 (9G, 15A) while also providing a steady presence on Iowa’s third and fourth lines. He’s also a force on Iowa’s penalty kill, still ranked in the top 10 of the AHL.
“He is our one true identity penalty killer,” Lalonde said. “Everyone else has different roles, but when we are on the penalty kill, he is very important to its success. We have asked a lot of him all season.”
Beck said that such demands, while difficult at first, have steadily become second nature to him. In his first year with Iowa, Beck had to adjust quickly as injuries and a lackluster offense demanded more emphasis on defense.
“It is something that I have added to my game as I grew into it,” Beck said. “Whenever you are asked to do something, you do it, especially when you are playing with such a great group of guys. You want to do it for them, for the guy sitting next to you.”
Beck also believes that his willingness to play wherever he is needed has helped to develop his spot with the Wild and keeps the door open for a potential NHL gig.
“That is what has put me in a position to be able to play in this league as an everyday player,” he said. “It’s not really anything new to me now like it would be for some players. It’s how I help make the team better.”
The veteran winger said it has taken time to learn the vagaries and responsibilities of each forward position, but now says it’s second nature to him.
“It’s become more natural to me,” he said. “At the beginning of each season, left wing is always going to be my most natural position. So the first time I am center at the beginning of the season, it is a bit different in terms of responsibility.”
At center, Beck said, there are substantially more defensive responsibilities that require him to always be careful when on the attack.
“You always have to remember you need to be a bit more defensively responsible as a center, but as the year goes on and you get more time in that position, it does come back to you.”
Beck opened the 2017-18 season with a flourish, scoring six goals in six consecutive games and adding two assists in a seventh consecutive game. He has missed playing in only two games this season – both healthy scratches. He and the rest of the Wild are now attempting to secure Iowa a playoff berth for the first time in franchise history.
He attributed the team’s success to its depth as well as the versatility within the roster. He also credited the team’s stability.
“Last year, we lost four forwards all at the same time on trade deadline day. As a result, we had to do a lot of changing,” he said. “This year we have players who have been here and give us the depth we need. We are getting the best chance we can to make the playoffs this year.”
Beck likes the challenge, but a six-way division race for four playoff spots is a big one.
“Anyone who is a competitor wants to play in these kinds of games,” he said of what remains of the schedule. “Every game is going to be important and we are going to take it head on.”
The veteran winger also acknowledged he and his wife, Alyssa, are about to meet their own major challenge head on – the birth of a son.
“It is super exciting for Alyssa and me,” he said. “We couldn’t wait to find out if it was a boy or a girl. I know it is going to be different for both of us, but we really are looking forward to it.”
It also means a permanent tie to Iowa.
“His mom and dad were born in British Columbia and now our son is going to be an Iowan. That’s pretty a cool story to tell when you are growing up. That your dad played professional hockey and you are a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S,” Beck said with the smile of soon-to-be father.