Kyle Beattie learned hockey on roller skates while growing up in Phoenix, but made the adjustment to playing on ice, and now the Black Bears may be heating up in Hockey East.
ORONO - The first pair of hockey skates Kyle Beattie wore came with wheels instead of blades.
Roller hockey was his introduction to the sport, thanks to the involvement of his older brother, Travis.
"Eventually it led to ice hockey," said Beattie, a senior at the University of Maine. "I was always naturally pretty good at it, so I just stuck with it all the way through."
An Arizona native who was born in Germany, Beattie's return from a pair of October concussions has the Black Bears on something of a roll. They have won three of four games, including victories in the Florida College Classic over Minnesota-Duluth and 11th-ranked Cornell to successfully defend their title.
Although they sit alone in the Hockey East cellar with a 1-7-2 conference mark, they have plenty of time to make up ground. Seventeen games remain on their schedule, all against Hockey East opponents, beginning this weekend at Northeastern Friday and Merrimack.
"We feel we're much more prepared for the journey through Hockey East this time around," said Maine Coach Tim Whitehead. "There's no guarantee we're going to get better results, but we believe we will. We're certainly more prepared."
Beattie was named MVP of the Florida tournament after scoring a goal and assisting on two others in the 6-4 championship victory over Cornell. After an injury-free junior year, he ran a personal consecutive-games streak to 60 games before suffering a mild concussion against Notre Dame in a Kansas City tournament in early October. After sitting out a game, a second concussion early in the first St. Lawrence game kept him out of action for three weeks.
The headaches, the aversion to bright lights, the difficulty in concentrating eventually subsided and Beattie said he doesn't even think about it anymore.
"I feel fine out there," he said. "Once you let your injuries creep into your mind and take away from how you play, then you might as well not be playing."
Beattie returned to a Maine team in a six-game losing streak. His first seven games back were all decided by one goal or tied. In the recent weekend split with Mercyhurst, Beattie was involved in three of Maine's four goals. He scored one, assisted on another and helped set up a third.
"He's a calming influence in the locker room and on the ice," Whitehead said, "a guy who plays with poise, who sees the ice well. He's a very good passer and he's developed into a strong scorer, too. He's also a consistent faceoff man who plays on the penalty kill, on the power play, in all situations."
That Beattie grew up in Arizona always gives a roster-peruser pause. A hockey player from Arizona? Do they even have ice rinks?
Turns out they do, at least in the Phoenix area. More than a dozen of his old Arizona teammates have gone on to play Division I college hockey.
"It's actually growing pretty solidly," Beattie said. "There's a lot more (hockey players) than people expect. I was lucky enough to have some really good coaches, some guys who had played in the NHL and were retired in Phoenix. They really knew what they were doing."
Beattie played with the sons of former NHL players Jim Johnson and Ulf Samuelsson, both of whom went into coaching. Beattie's dad, an Air Force fighter pilot stationed in Germany for several years before returning to Arizona, had grown up in Maryland where basketball was his sport.
Beattie isn't Maine's first Sun Belt recruit. Travis Ramsey, a captain on the 2006-07 squad, was a converted water polo player from Southern California who also got his start in roller hockey. He's currently a defenseman with St. John's IceCaps of the American Hockey League.
"He was a late bloomer," Whitehead said. "In similar fashion, you see Kyle really emerging now."
A true freshman in Orono after spending his senior year of high school playing for the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs, Beattie moved to center last season after two years as a wing. He more than doubled his point total to 27, which included 21 assists.
This season, he is tied for third on the team with two goals and five assists and has recently been centering a line that includes Maine's two leading point-getters, sophomore Connor Leen (10) and freshman Devin Shore (9).
Beattie is majoring in business management. At 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, he has filled out since coming to Maine and is looking forward to the opportunity of playing professionally after college.
For the next few months, however, his focus will be on righting the Black Bear ship and earning one of the eight Hockey East playoff berths.
"There's definitely enough time, with the way we're playing, to make it into the playoffs," Beattie said. "And once you make it into the playoffs, anything can happen. Anyone can beat anyone."
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: