Have hockey stick, will travel

Phillip Brents

Fri July 25, 2014 10:43am

The semi-arid climate that pervades the San Diego region might seem inhospitable to sports such as ice hockey, but the wintry sport continues to maintain a pulse locally amid towering palms and Santa Ana breezes, albeit as part of a submerged subculture.
The sport is kept alive here thanks in large part to strong fan allegiances to the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, the region’s nearest National Hockey League teams.
The Kings recently claimed their second Stanley Cup championship in three years by defeating the New York Rangers, 3-2, in a marathon double overtime game on June 13 to capture the teams’ best-of-seven championship series four games to one. The game was epic and was rewarding for Kings fans everywhere, San Diego included.
The omnipresence of cable television has made ice hockey both an accessible and attractive option for a new generation of Southern Californians. Count Cole Beatie, a 2014 graduate of Otay Ranch High School, among them.
Beatie, a member of the school’s roller hockey team, helped guide the Jr. Ducks’ 18U-AAA ice hockey team to a third-place finish at this year’s Tier II Youth 18U National Championships, held April 2-6 in Wayne, N.J. In fact, the Mustang standout scored the game-winning goal in the Ducks’ opening win over the York Devils at the national championships.
“We wanted to take it all – we wanted a national championship,” he said. “We came within a game of playing for it. We won our first two games, so there was no question about us being there. It was so special for a team from Southern California to get that far.”
A bit on the laid-back side, Beatie fits right into the Southern California mold. But put a hockey stick in his hand and he can play with the best out there – anywhere. Beatie gained notoriety as a sophomore by leading Otay Ranch’s roller hockey team in scoring. His 80 points ranked fifth best in CIF roller hockey that season. By then, however, he was already an accomplished ice hockey player, having started at age 4.
“The main difference between ice hockey and roller hockey is the hitting, and the speed is a lot different,”
he explained. “In roller, you can’t get going that fast because there’s not as much grip.”
The Mustangs qualified for February’s Kiwanis Cup championship playoffs, and Beatie was back in an Otay Ranch uniform beside longtime friend Devyn Taras, another talented travel team ice hockey player. Beatie proved he hadn’t lost his touch on the roller court by scoring five of the Mustangs’ seven goals in a 10-7 loss to defending conference champion West Hills. The Feb. 24 game was the high point of Beatie’s season, at least on roller blades.
“It felt nice to be back representing my school,” said Beatie, who was playing his first game of the season for the Mustangs after concentrating on club ice hockey with the Jr. Ducks.
Following the conclusion of the high school inline hockey season, Beatie was back on the ice with the Jr. Ducks as the team made its history-making trek to New Jersey. Beatie proudly noted it was the farthest that any Jr. Ducks team had ever advanced. The team was subsequently bestowed with honors by the mayor of Anaheim and the NHL Ducks organization.
“At the start of the season, I didn’t know if we could get as far as the final four, but as soon as we started winning, I thought we could,” he explained. “It took a lot of commitment. It showed that it’s more than what you do at the rink.”
The absence of a pro ice hockey team in the San Diego region has created obvious drawbacks for youths picking up the game locally. While there are several youth ice hockey programs in the immediate region, rink locations are few and far between.
In order to play at a high level with the Jr. Ducks, Beatie had to make a 200-mile round-trip commute to practices and games during the ice hockey season.
“There were four of us from San Diego on the team, but the other three guys lived in North County so, living in Chula Vista, I had the farthest commute of anyone on the team,” the ORHS grad explained. “I was actually driving longer than I was practicing.”
There were perks, of course. The Jr. Ducks had their own locker room at their home rink in Anaheim and wearing the Ducks’ colors did have definite prestige value.
As for the Kings’ return to the top of the NHL, Beatie was – quite predictably – ecstatic.
“As a huge fan, it was awesome to watch the Kings win the Cup again,” he said. “I had a great time watching the series with my best friend Devyn (Otay Ranch’s Devyn Taras). We even ended up driving to L.A. for the parade where we were able to see most of the team.”
Beatie, who has indicated an interest in helping coach the Mustangs roller hockey team next season, has one more year of eligibility remaining at the 18U level. His plans are to play ice hockey in 2014-15 for the San Diego Gulls 18UAAA team where he will be playing alongside Taras for the first time on ice since they first met when Beatie was 12. Eastlake’s Aaron Meyer, who set a CIF scoring record with 158 points during the 2013-14 roller hockey season, is also on the team.
Meyer and Beatie have known each other and have been playing hockey together off and on since Beatie was 4.
The trio of longtime friends look to rack up the mileage this coming season after the Gulls were recently accepted into the Eastern Junior Elite Prospect League. The Gulls are the only Southern California team that has been accepted so far into the elite league and will be playing tournaments in Boston, New Hampshire, New York and Philadelphia between September and January.
But Beatie’s seemingly never-ending hockey adventure does appear to have an end. After the EJEPL season, he plans to join the Navy SEALs program.