Former Silvertip Kyle Beach warms up with the Blackhawks before an exhibition game against the Avalanche in 2008 in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Former Silvertip Kyle Beach warms up with the Blackhawks before an exhibition game against the Avalanche in 2008 in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Patterson: Kyle Beach showed everyone what real courage is

The hockey world failed the former Silvertips’ tough guy when he spoke up about sexual assault.

During his time with the Everett Silvertips, Kyle Beach wasn’t afraid of anything.

From the moment he arrived at Everett’s training camp as a 15-year-old in August of 2005, to the time he was traded to Lethbridge in January of 2009, Beach didn’t back down from anyone. He was a big, brash and gifted power forward who got goals, got into fights and got under opponents’ skin. No matter how large or how veteran the foe, Beach was going to attack full-speed ahead — and he wasn’t going to show any weakness.

So watching Beach break down sobbing during his interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead on Wednesday, when he revealed himself as the “John Doe” in the Chicago Blackhawks’ sexual abuse case, was both startling and painful.

Beach may have played with no fear, but this was a far more courageous moment than anything he ever did on the ice.

For months the Blackhawks and NHL have been embroiled in scandal after two lawsuits were brought against the team alleging sexual abuse by former Chicago video coach Brad Aldrich. An independent review conducted by a law firm, which was released Tuesday, concluded that Beach was the victim of abuse in May of 2010 as alleged, the organization knew about it because Beach reported the incident, yet the Blackhawks chose not to act so as not to cause a distraction as the team sought its first Stanley Cup since 1961.

“Beacher is one of my oldest friends from my time in Everett,” Shane Harper, Beach’s former teammate with the Silvertips, said via direct message. “It’s so hard to see what he is going through right now. I can’t imagine how hard the last 10 years were for him.”

Beach was 20 at the time of the incident, having just completed his 19-year-old season with the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. The Kelowna, B.C., native was a highly-regarded prospect, having been selected 11th overall in the 2008 NHL draft, yet he never appeared in an NHL game. Now 31, Beach is playing in the German third division with the TecArt Black Dragons.

“Personally and from an organization standpoint we feel for Kyle,” said Silvertips CEO Zoran Rajcic, who’s seen Beach on occasion over the years when Beach stopped through town to visit his billet family. “He played here, he was an Everett Silvertip, and we know how difficult this situation must be for him. We want to give our support.”

Watching Beach recount his story, which clearly is still affecting him today, was difficult. Beach being someone I knew personally from having covered him for three-and-a-half years made it all the more heartbreaking. It left me feeling sad, hollow and extremely sympathetic. It also left me thinking three things:

— Being big and tough doesn’t shelter someone from sexual abuse. Beach is 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and as rough-and-tumble as they come. But that didn’t matter. He was still a 20-year-old straight out of junior hockey who was just trying to get a foothold on his professional hockey career. Power dynamics played a greater role than physical size or strength.

— We shouldn’t be so quick to judge someone’s character. Beach was considered a bust for never playing in the NHL after being drafted 11th overall. The assumption was that Beach never made it because of his mindset, that he never matured enough to reach hockey’s highest level. I’m guilty of this myself. We now know there was a much more substantial factor, and for me it was a gut-punch reminder that I don’t always have the whole story and I shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

— The hockey world failed Kyle Beach. It failed when the culture allowed a sexual predator like Aldrich to exist within it. It failed when the Blackhawks decided winning the 2010 Stanley Cup was a greater priority than the well-being of one of their own players. It failed when his teammates allegedly teased him relentlessly about the incident without consequence. And it failed when the incident was downplayed after it resurfaced more than a decade later. Hockey has to be better.

“As an operator of a junior hockey club, that’s my biggest fear,” Rajcic said. “When players come here to make our hockey team, our organization’s responsibility is to take care of them and guide them, regardless of the hockey side. We promise these parents as an organization that their young son is going to be protected here. It’s the biggest part of our job.”

That shouldn’t change just because a player has reached the NHL or is legally an adult.

During his interview Beach talked about feeling “alone and dark” in the immediate aftermath of the incident. About feeling like he didn’t exist when Aldrich was allowed to participate in Stanley Cup celebrations. About suppressing the memory in an effort to get on with his career and his subsequent reliance on alcohol and drugs. All the while he was on the verge of tears.

But the sobbing didn’t begin until Beach was asked about Aldrich’s other victim, who was a 16-year-old Michigan high school student when he was abused — Aldrich was convicted for that incident — at which point Beach apologized to that victim for not doing more. That if he was more outspoken at an earlier date that maybe the second victim’s abuse never would have happened.

Beach’s apology came before he ever received an apology from the Blackhawks.

In hockey there’s a lot of talk about courage. Having the courage to go to the net and play in the gritty areas. Having the courage to block a shot. Having the courage to stand up for a teammate.

But in this instance, Beach showed us all what real courage is.

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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