BY SCOTT HADDOW
Kevin Beech doesn't just want to flicker in his role as the number 1 puck stopper for the Sudbury Wolves.
He wants to burn brightly and help deliver a championship to a starved city.
Expectations run high for any number 1 goalie, and Beech isn't an exception.
The lanky goalie has shown flashes of sheer brilliance this season and a knack for making big saves to keep his critics at bay and rabid fans shouting chants of "Beech, Beech" during games after he has made a flurry of stops.
He has shown he can handle pressure, by winning three shoot-out games, and has put together solid numbers over the season.
The 19-year-old started the season 1-3 with a less than flattering 4.73 goals-against-average (GAA) and .840 save percentage. Since then, he has
gone 28-19-1-4 and now sports a 2.93 GAA (seventh best in the league) and .906 save percentage. Beech is sixth in the OHL with 29 wins.
"It's been a challenge I have thrived on," said the Brantford native. "I have really enjoyed being in the game almost every night. I started out slow, but once I got used to being the number one guy, I got into a groove and I think I have played well."
Beech has played 56 games this season, 17 more than he competed in during his first two years in the OHL.
He knew his time would come and he prepared for it big time last summer.
"I knew I had to prepare harder and improve my conditioning, so my body could handle playing so many games."
The Wolves' brass has been pleased with Beech's progress and they're watching him closely.
"Kevin's played a lot of games for us and he has earned that opportunity," said Wolves head coach and GM Mike Foligno. "Coming down the stretch, we want to look at keeping him healthy, fresh and sharp."
Foligno wants a bit more out of Beech as the playoffs near and feel he can deliver on his performances.
"He now just has to start playing like a goalie that can not only stop pucks, but one that can win us games by himself," said Foligno. "He hates to lose and he can't stand it. He takes a lot of pride in his game. He knows when the pressure is on and can play under it. We've seen him do it this year.
Everyone believes in his abilities and we know what he's capable of. He has to stay confident and keep a positive attitude."
Wrapping his hands around a championship would be perfect for Beech, but there's still plenty of work ahead.
"We need to win a few more games to improve our playoff positioning to get home ice advantage," said the six-foot-four netminder. "Knowing I am starting in the playoffs this year is something I definitely can't wait for. We should be able to win a lot of games if we keep our goals against down.
We have one of the best defences in the league...It plays a big part in my season and I give credit to all the guys in front of me."