The Big Guy
By George Grimm
My father used to call me whenever the Rangers made a big trade, so on the night of Nov. 2, 1979 the phone rang and I heard him say two words: Bar-ry Beck, stressing each syllable for emphasis. Pop was happy. So were a lot of other Ranger fans. The Blueshirts had finally gotten the big physical defenseman they needed and perhaps the player that would lead them to the Promised Land.
Beck had been the Rockies’ first-round pick in the 1977 amateur draft (second overall behind Detroit’s Dale McCourt). He scored 22 goals in his rookie year and finished second to the Islanders Mike Bossy in the Calder Trophy voting that season. The next year his stature around the league grew and he was selected to play in the Challenge Cup series against the Soviets. It soon became apparent to all that at 6-3, 215 pounds the 22-year-old Beck had the size as well as the skill to be the big physical defenseman the Rangers needed after being manhandled by Montreal’s Larry Robinson in the Stanley Cup finals the previous spring. Beck became a highly sought after commodity since there were other teams looking to beef up their blueline as well. Luckily though for the Rangers, GM Fred Shero’s offer of Pat Hickey, Lucien Deblois, Mike McEwan, Dean Turner, Bobby Sheehan, cash and future considerations (Bobby Crawford) was enough to make Colorado GM Ray Miron pull the trigger on the deal. And so 10 games into the 1979-80 season Barry found himself headed to Broadway in one of the biggest deals in Rangers history.
“When I heard I was traded to the Rangers I was shocked,” Barry told me recently via email. “The previous week I had talked with Colorado GM Ray Miron about the rumors of me being traded. He assured me I would never be traded. There had been talk of our team moving to New Jersey. I guess this was the beginning of it. Since the Rangers were in town when the trade was announced I just moved from the home dressing room to the visitors and played two nights later. It wasn’t easy for me, plus Colorado won, I think 7-2.”
The pressure was on Barry from the moment he became a Ranger. He responded by scoring the game winner in his MSG debut, crashing into the crossbar in the process. In 61 games that first season Barry scored 14 goals, 45 assists with 98 PIM and led Ranger defensemen with four game-winning goals. Barry welcomed the leadership role with the Rangers and was named captain on Feb. 4, 1981, a position he held until his retirement in 1985.
“There is pressure for everyone in New York to perform”, Barry said. “I personally love that part of the game. It means you have to be at your best every night. That’s what it is all about. Sure maybe there was a little more on me but that was fair. The Rangers traded five players for me so it was expected.”
Over the next few seasons Bubba established himself as one of the league’s dominant defensemen and was named to the NHL All-Star team in 1980, 1981 and 1982.
Bubba was among the most popular Rangers of his day. He shared the Frank Boucher Award (Most Popular Ranger) as voted by the Rangers Fan Club with Nick Fotiu in 1983-84. Beck was also honored for his work with children and charities with the Toots Shor “Crumb Bum” Award in 1982 and was given the Good Guy Award by the local media in 1981. He was also named the Rangers MVP as voted by the media in 1981-82 and 1983-84.
Injuries however kept Beck from becoming the final piece of the Rangers Stanley Cup puzzle. Because of his bruising style of play, Barry’s body took a beating, especially his shoulders, which were a constant problem beginning in the 1981-82 season. In the 1984 playoffs he suffered a separated left shoulder that he never really recovered from when checked into the boards by Pat Flatley of the Islanders. He then reinjured the same shoulder in the first game of the 1984-85 season and again at the end of that same year. In 1985-86 he missed 45 regular season and 16 playoff games with a separated left shoulder. It was that injury and the way it was handled by coach Ted Sator that led to Beck announcing his retirement at the age of 29. Mark Pavelich and Reijo Ruotsalainen also left the team that season after disagreements with Sator.
“Ted Sator got the Rangers to the semi-finals before losing to Montreal…that’s pretty good I’d say,” Barry explained diplomatically.
“Myself, Mark and Reijo all left for different reasons. I was injured and had worked hard to try and get back in the lineup. My shoulder was not 100 percent but I thought I deserved a chance to try and play. We were down 2-0 to Montreal heading back to the Garden. I asked Ted about playing the third game at the Garden. I thought I could give the team a much needed boost of energy. Ted told me he would talk it over with our team doctor. I was pumped when I went to the game thinking about the possibility of playing. When I got to the Garden the trainer told me I would not be playing. ‘God damn it!’ I thought. I was pissed. I thought, ‘okay Ted talked to the doctor and they agreed on what they thought was best.’ When the doctor came in to the dressing room I asked him ‘Did Ted talk to you about me playing?’ He answered, no, Ted did not talk to him at all. So that was it. I said ‘bleep you, you rotten bastard.’ Not to anyone, just myself. I thought I deserved that chance. Ted did not talk with the doctor and obviously that did not go over well with me. Mark and Reijo left because they didn’t respect him and wouldn’t play anymore for him.”
Beck returned the next season after Sator was fired and replaced by Michel Bergeron. But he dressed for only 25 games and retired at the end of the season. He attempted a comeback in 1989-90 with the L.A. Kings but found that he couldn’t contribute the way he wanted and retired for good at the end of the season.
For the past eight years Beck has been the general manager of the Hong Kong Academy of Hockey in Japan.
“Friends of mine play in a men’s tournament here every year. They contacted me and told me someone was looking to start an academy here. I was looking for someone else for them…I was already busy running youth programs in Canada. When they invited me to Hong Kong and told me of their vision and strategy for hockey in China I wanted to be a part of it so here I am. All of our programs are on our web site hkaih.org. We really try and cater to local kids at the grass roots level. We have a primary school league, high school league all while training up to 400 kids a week. It ain’t easy!”
Overall in 615 NHL games with the Rockies, Rangers and Kings, Barry scored 104 goals with 251 assists and 1,016 PIM. in 51 playoff games he scored 10 goals, 23 assists for 33 points with 77 PIM.
Barry enjoyed the best years of his career in New York. The fans loved him and he loved them right back.
“I loved playing in New York.” Barry remembered. “There is nowhere else that has the adrenaline rush like the Garden has. NOWHERE!”
George Grimm is the former publisher of Sportstat, The Ranger Report and columnist for the Blueshirt Bulletin. He currently writes the Retro Rangers column for Insidehockey.com and is working on an oral history of the Emile Francis era New York Rangers.
Photo by Getty Images.