By Mike Ives – New York Times
Taking the ice here on a recent weekday evening, Barry Beck issued an unsubtle warning to a fellow skater who had come to play hockey without neck protection.
“If you don’t have a neck guard, this is what you get,” he said, miming an attack. “A judo chop.”
In the 1980s, Beck, 59, was known throughout the N.H.L. as an enforcer with a crushing slap shot and a penchant for scrappy fights and bone-crushing body checks.
But here in a Hong Kong shopping mall, Beck, a former Rangers captain, was goading a 10-year-old about a quarter of his size — and the boy did not flinch. They both laughed.
Players and coaches say Beck, a 6-foot-3 defenseman who moved to Hong Kong in 2007, has played a key role in developing the city’s youth hockey culture. He is primarily known not as an ex-enforcer, they said, but as a hockey oracle who dishes wisdom with tough love and a side of Canadian wit
Hong Kong, which has a subtropical climate, is not an obvious hockey hub. But the number of youth players here has grown to about 1,500 from just a handful a decade ago, said Norm Chin, the head coach at Mega Ice, the city’s only international-size ice rink.
Chin said Beck, who moved to Hong Kong the same year that Mega Ice opened, had had an outsize effect on the sport’s development in the city and taught many of the top teenage players the basics of tactical play, including body checking.
“He definitely knows what he’s talking about, and all the parents love him,” Chin said.
Beck spent seven seasons with the Rangers, and after a three-year injury break, he made a brief comeback with the Los Angeles Kings. He said that after retiring from the N.H.L. in 1990, he had worked as a partner in a nightclub in Vancouver, Canada.
A few years later, a rancher friend in Osoyoos, a town about 250 miles east of Vancouver, called to ask if Beck would help coach a local pee-wee team. Beck said he had agreed partly out of an obligation that he felt toward a new generation of players.
“I knew I had this knowledge about the game that I should be passing on,” he said.
In 2006, Beck received another memorable phone call, this time from a Vancouver policeman he knew who had just returned from an amateur hockey tournament in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory of 7.3 million people.
“Uh-oh, what did I do?” Beck said he had asked.
“No, no, no,” the policeman said, Beck recalled with a laugh. “We’ve just come back from Hong Kong, and there’s somebody in Hong Kong that’s looking to start an academy for kids.”
The person was Thomas Wu, the tournament’s chairman and a prominent local businessman. Beck said he had begun talking with Wu’s staff in an informal capacity, and eventually became general manager of Wu’s nascent organization, the Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey.
“There were no N.H.L. players here or in China, so it was all new,” Beck said. “I could sort of set the bar, the standard, myself.”
The initial bar was low: Beck said that the association had begun with only 10 players, and that most had never played hockey before.
He said his efforts to expand the game had faced multiple challenges, including a warm climate; the cost of ice time, which he said was typically $1,500 or more per hour; and the absence of hockey-specific facilities at rinks.
Chin said the Hong Kong Academy of Ice Hockey had also faced competition from several other local youth-development programs, one of which is led by Simon Ferguson, a Canadian who retired recently after a professional career spent mainly in the American Hockey League.
But Beck said his academy now had more than 500 players from primary and secondary schools around Hong Kong. And in 2013, he led the Hong Kong men’s national team to its first appearance at the Division III world championships since 1987.
Players and parents said that Beck was known for taking a tougher and more exacting approach with his older players than local coaches would, but that he also commanded deep respect and admiration.
“Even after retirement, he’s still so passionate” about hockey, said Tony Leung, the captain of the men’s national team. “You still see the same fire in his eyes that you see in the YouTube videos of him fighting.”
Beck said that he enjoyed living in Hong Kong, partly because its bustle reminds him of New York City, and that he planned to stay until at least 2022, when Beijing is scheduled to host the Winter Olympics.
Ice hockey would receive a huge boost in China, he added, if a local player were ever to play in the N.H.L., just as Yao Ming inspired a surge of interest in basketball in the country by joining the N.B.A.
“We’re always looking for that diamond in the rough — that guy that can be the vision for everyone else,” Beck said.
In the meantime, he said, he is on the ice several nights a week, often with as many as 50 children. And until a few months ago, he played once a week in a full-contact men’s league.
The games left him so sore that he would hobble around his office for days afterward, Beck said. But he remained a fierce competitor to the end, he said, and was even suspended for fighting — with a player he had once coached on the men’s national team — in one of his final appearances.
Beck, who lost six teeth as a Ranger, said the fight had started after he defended a teammate who had been rammed after the buzzer, and one of his gloves fell off “by mistake.”
“I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got one glove off, I better get rid of the other one,’” he said, as his sly smile reappeared. “Things happened quick.”