It was a sight fans in Spokane know well: Adam Beckman pumping his fist as he skated back to his bench, celebrating a goal.
“That was definitely really cool, a big celebration from Becks,” said Jack Finley, his Chiefs’ teammate. “Really cool for him.”
It was a celebration Finley no doubt knows well, too, having played the past two seasons with the 19-year-old Beckman, each of them wearing Spokane Chiefs jerseys. Except this time, Beckman was wearing an Iowa Wild jersey, and Finley was watching highlights from the East Coast, where he is enjoying his own stint in the pros with the Syracuse Crunch.
“It’s a dream come true,” Finley said. “I didn’t expect to be here.”
Both Chiefs players are spending time in the American Hockey League, which made an exception this season to allow teenagers under contract to play in the professional league until their junior leagues resume.
The Crunch are affiliated with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who drafted and then signed Finley in 2020. Iowa is the AHL affiliate of the Minnesota Wild, which drafted Beckman in 2019 and signed him to a contract last March, after he led the WHL in scoring as an 18-year-old.
They are expected to return to the Chiefs when the WHL’s U.S. Division begins a 24-game season on March 19, almost exactly a year since the league cut short its 2019-20 season right before the playoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the AHL, it didn’t take long for Beckman to get going: He scored in his first game with Iowa on Feb. 5, on a five-hole shot from the left circle.
“The play was just a play (where) I got the puck on the goal line. I walked up and threw it at the net,” Beckman said. “Like people say, throw the puck at the net and good things tend to happen.”
On Saturday, Beckman scored an overtime game-winner for the Wild and assisted on an earlier goal. He now has two goals and an assist in four games with Iowa.
Finley hasn’t yet appeared in a game for the Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the Lightning and the Florida Panthers this season.
“It’s two teams in one, pretty much,” Finley said.
The 6-foot-5 center praised the team’s many coaches and trainers, specifically the skating coaches who have helped him strengthen an aspect of the game – speed – the Lightning organization particularly values.
Back in January, Finley already had impressed the Lightning, scoring a goal in the first scrimmage of training camp.
“I was nervous going to Tampa, but I feel like I had a good camp,” said Finley, who was Tampa Bay’s second-round draft selection in October. “I wanted to prove to the staff that drafted me that it was a good pick.”
Beckman, who spent time at the Canadian national junior selection camp last fall, said that playing in a pro league with older players has been a good challenge.
“I think it’s definitely eye-opening, the level of play up here, how good the players are,” he said. “It’s good. It puts in perspective what it’ll take to play here at a full-time level.”
If the AHL returns to its prepandemic arrangement with junior leagues, Beckman could play for Iowa again during the 2021-22 season as a 20-year-old. Finley, a year younger, would have to wait.
For now, though, both are enjoying the unusual experience of playing in a pro league as a teenager. And at the same time, Beckman said he misses being in Spokane and is glad the WHL is starting back up soon:
“You miss all the boys. Even just seeing them around the rink. Just getting the opportunity to be around them all the time is exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing the boys, for sure.”