Hockey is not something New Yorkers do casually or just on the side. Hockey is a way of life, a religion, a part of who you are. In a state just south of the country that birthed the sport, hockey runs deep through the veins of New York. Kids are raised on it, friends are made from it, and families are united through it. No one better exemplifies this than Michael Beck, coach of the Marist College Club Hockey team.
Hailing from just 16 minutes out of Poughkeepsie in the small town of Marlboro, N.Y., hockey has been a part of Beck’s life for as long as he can remember. Beck started playing hockey as soon as he could, and continued throughout his four years at Siena College. His dad routinely practiced on a pond while playing on the inaugural Arlington High School hockey team, and his cousins, his sister, and brothers all played as well.
“It’s kinda in the blood, I guess you could say,” said Beck.
Beck is in the middle of his third season as the head coach, and his fifth year with the team. The program has improved each season Beck has been at the helm, as they are off to a 7-3-1 start this year after finishing last season at 13-9-1 and going 12-13-5 the previous year.
“He puts all the time into the program that he has, and the guys on the team take notice,” said Daniel Roberts, senior defenseman and captain. “The improved on-ice performance through the years has a direct correlation with that.”
Talking to Mike Beck, it is easy to tell how much he cares about this hockey program, and as he talks he can hardly hold back a smile. The players practice Mondays and Thursdays from 9:30-11:30 p.m., often not getting home until after midnight. They have off-ice practices on Wednesdays and then play two to three games Friday through Sunday.
“These guys don’t have to wake up early to go on a run, they don’t have to stay up late to come to practice, but they choose to because of the love of the game,” said Beck with a sense of pride. “It really says a lot about who these guys are as people, that they put in this much time and effort to make this program successful, it’s not the coaches that do it, it’s the players.”
Beck acknowledges his role as head coach goes beyond merely getting these kids ready to compete on game day. He is getting these young men ready to take on the real world.
He knows that no two players are alike, saying he’s “learned that everyone needs to be treated and handled a little bit differently to get the best out of them, because they’re not just players. They’re human beings and we’re coaching and developing good people.”
“Coach Beck has been great about adjusting his coaching style from year-to-year to better suit the team we have and the personalities,” said Roberts.
The qualities Beck attempts to drive home include trust, time management, work ethic, and leadership. Beck and this hockey program practice these values by helping out around the community. The players assist with local youth teams and travel programs, as well as host fundraiser games such as the annual “Pink Game,” which gives the proceeds to the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation. The team hosts events like “Try Hockey for Free,” which is sponsored by the New York Rangers, and affords local youth the opportunity to give hockey a try with the help of the players.
“It’s all for the love of the game,” Beck said. “When players come back and say ‘Coach, when you talked to me about this, I never got it until I left’ and to hear these stories and where they are now, that’s the most important thing to me.”
Looking forward, Beck only sees the program getting bigger. He praises what the American College Hockey Association (ACHA) has done for club hockey programs across the country, and how the ACHA has helped push past the limitations against which club teams often face. While Beck would enjoy the addition of a Division I Hockey team to Marist’s varsity repertoire, he seems more than comfortable with the way that the club team currently represents hockey at Marist.
Beck thinks because of the “beautiful culture that is built around the hockey program,” Marist Hockey “stands the chance to keep exploding” in the next five years.
While daydreaming about the future can be tempting, Beck and the team have their eyes set on this season, where with zero hesitation, the coach says the team’s goal is to end up in Dallas competing in the National Tournament. In the meantime, Beck hopes the team can “maintain consistency and the communication and atmosphere that the guys have this year,” and so far– based on their hot start –things seem to be going according to plan.
Beck credits the success to his players, his assistant coaches, the student government, the Athletic Department and the college, but not himself. Beck never once mentions himself, but his fingerprints are found all over the grassroots program. Inside the hands that left those prints, three-quarter-inch McCann Arena ice courses through his veins, providing the heart and soul of the ever-growing hockey program at Marist College.