LINCOLN PARK — Ian Beck endures the mother of all commutes to chase his hockey dream.
Every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, the Lincoln Park High School junior drives from the city to the suburbs of Milwaukee to practice with the Milwaukee Junior Admirals, a team in the Tier I Elite League — the top youth circuit in the United States. The goal for the 6-foot-4 defenseman is to eventually earn a Division I scholarship and then possibly have a shot in professional hockey — and eventually the NHL.
"It's definitely a huge commitment, and it's definitely been a life-changing opportunity for me already," said Beck, 16, of Lincoln Park.
Justin Breen says Ian Beck may one day make it to the NHL:
The four-hour, nearly 200-mile round-trip commute is not made completely alone. He meets Admirals teammate Aaron Forman in a parking lot at a Northbrook hotel, and the pair take turns driving to and from the team's home ice at Pettit National Ice Center. The reward is two hours and 15 minutes with the club, which includes 75 minutes on the ice and another hour of workouts.
Beck also has to make the road trip on weekends for Admirals games — they've played a half-dozen already and are preparing for this weekend's six-game showcase in St. Louis. For that event, Beck has to drive to Wisconsin and then take a team bus to Missouri.
But the showcases are where the players are appropriately shown off to scouts for the U.S. Hockey League — the No. 1 junior league in the United States — and Division I schools. Beck, the youngest player on the Admirals' roster of 16- to 18-year-olds, wants to compete in the USHL next year and then skate for a top collegiate squad.
Admirals coach Mark Adamek, a former pro in the ECHL and Central Hockey League who also played for Division I program Lake Superior State, said he believed Beck's size, mobility and athleticism could lead to him being recruited to the junior and collegiate ranks.
"Junior hockey scouts absolutely love to see big, mobile, athletic defensemen that can play the physical game but can also join offensive rushes and push the pace," Adamek said. "Ian ... will certainly get his fair share of looks from the junior scouts that recruit from our league. That is a good thing because every junior league scouts our league."
A truly packed schedule
It's been Beck's mission to become a hockey force since he first put on a pair of skates as a 4-year-old at Johnny's Ice House on the Near West Side. His twin sister, Alana, was participating in a "Learn to Skate" class, and Ian insisted on joining her.
"And it was an immediate attraction to the stick on the puck," said Beck's mother, Cynthia. "He was determined to be with a stick and a puck after one lesson."
Beck, who has one assist this season, has been the biggest player on his various teams since suiting up for Johnny's Jets when he was 6. Beck said his huge frame — which is similar to that of his father Robert, a former All-American swimmer at Texas and Olympic Trials finalist in 1984 — has been a blessing, but it's also taken him years to adjust to. Beck said he's finally grown into his body with the Admirals.
"There definitely have been a lot of challenges to this point, but I've stuck with it," Beck said.
Every day would seem to be a difficult test for Beck. During practice days, he wakes up at 7 a.m., goes to Lincoln Park High School from 7:45 a.m. to 3 p.m., then spends two hours at home doing homework before leaving for Wisconsin. On days Forman drives, Beck sleeps on the way to the Pettit Ice Center, then does homework on the trip back while the pair listen to hip-hop, rap and pop artists like Jay Z, Eminem and Usher. He doesn't hit the pillow at home usually until just before midnight.
His class schedule consists of AP human geography, IB business management, trigonometry/advanced algebra, general music, honors physics and British literature. He can do the classwork for all of those disciplines in the car except the literature course, which requires loads of essay writing.
"It's dark and it's bumpy, and it just turns into squiggly lines and scribbles," Beck said with a laugh.
Understanding the sacrifice it takes
Beck has almost no opportunity for a social life. Even on his one true off day — Wednesday — he spends time with an ACT tutor. On the Fridays he's not going to Milwaukee for games, he trains with Bobby DeThomasis at Performance Training Systems in the West Loop. In the last year, Beck said strength training sessions with DeThomasis, who has trained several professional and Division I athletes, have added 25 pounds of muscle to his body.
Beck said it's been tough for his friends because "I'm never really around anymore, and some of them don't really like it."
But he and his coach also understand the sacrifices it takes to reach hockey's biggest stages.
"It's hard to be an elite athlete while being a high school student, especially when your team is based in Milwaukee and you live in Chicago," Adamek said. "It's really good preparation for what the university student-athlete lifestyle is like. Honestly, I'd be willing to bet that Ian loves to do it."
And even though Beck is "stuck in a car" for four hours many days a week, he and his mom said they wouldn't trade the experience for anything.
"He’s in a place where he’s very grateful and surrounded by a lot of positive people who are rooting for him," Cynthia Beck said.
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