I had the chance to catch up with Jeff Beukeboom Friday morning over the phone, and the hulking former Blueshirts defenseman must have used the word "excited" about returning to the Rangers organization and his new post as assistant coach with the Connecticut Whale about two dozen times in our 20 minute chat.
It's been 13 years since Beukeboom---or just plain Beuk to Ranger fans---last played in an NHL game for the Blueshirts, forced from the sport he loves due to a severe concussion. After stints as a coach in the OHL, teaching the craft to junior hockey players, Beukeboom returned to the Rangers fold last week when it was announced he would replace JJ Daignault with the Whale, working alongside a pair of men he has known and respected for quite some time---Connecticut head coach Ken Gernander and fellow assistant Pat Boller.
"I have been working towards this for five or six years now, coaching my way up the junior ranks, and this is a great story for me and my family to be able to return to the Rangers organization," explained Beukeboom, who won four Stanley Cups in his career---three with the Edmonton Oilers and the magicial 1994 Cup with the Blueshirts. "I am really excited for this opportunity to come back and really add something in helping to develop the young players."
When Beukeboom first arrived on Broadway from Edmonton 1991 in a lopsided trade for fellow defenseman David Shaw, he not only brough size, toughness, and grit to the team, he brought leadership and a willing stay-at-home-partner for Brian Leetch. The two lifted each to greater heights individually and collectively, and the cheers of "Boooook" were a staple at The Garden for eight memorable seasons.
Now he returns to off-Broadway, if you will, to instill future Rangers with the skills, passion, and technique that will be required to succeed at the NHL level---players like a young defenseman who has been compared to him Beukeboom since the day he was selected 10th overall by the Blueshirts back in 2010, Dylan McIlrath.
"I think he will be a huge focus of mine," Beuk said of McIlrath, who is currently recovering from knee surgery. "The organization has invested a high draft pick and a lot of time and energy into a young prospect who brings a different skill set to the table. Obviously his skill set is hard to find in a defenseman. I really look forward to working with (McIlrath)."
That skill set to which Beukeboom refers is one that he, himself, possessed over his 804-game NHL career: a willingness to play a fierce, fearless, and nasty game in front of his own net and in the corners, as well as a willingness to drop the gloves and fight in order to protect his teammates. Beukeboom relished that role during his playing career, and now he relishes helping McIlrath become, perhaps, the next Jeff Beukeboom at Madison Square Garden.
But he explained to me that while McIlrath will be a clear focus for him, he plans on being there for all Whale players---forwards and goalies, as well as defensemen. And with his four-Cup resume, it's clear that Beukeboom has much to teach the Ranger minor leaguers.
"My job is to help everyone in the organization," stated Beukeboom. "I look forward to working with all the kids."
Beuk also told me that three of the greatest influences on him now as he has embarked on a coaching career are Glen Sather, Ted Green, and Ron Low---three men with ties to both the Oilers and Rangers, just like Beukeboom himself. And rejoining Sather again in New York makes this next job even more special for Beukeboom.
"I've had a long relationship with Glen Sather," explained Beukeboom. "He drafted me in Edmonton, so was a big part right from the start for me. I am so excited to be a part of the process with the Rangers, and so excited for the organization where it's headed, and for the fans because the organization is at such a great point in the history of the team. The players are coming into their own, and everything looks so positive. I feel fortunate to be part of that process. I feel honored to have this opportunity, and I really look forward to the challenge."
Beuk is back! Pretty sweet words for any Rangers fan to hear.
--Jim Cerny, July 16, 2012
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