When Doug Beck joined the North American Hockey League at the age of 17, he had a three-step plan.
Work hard. Get better. Earn a scholarship to play at a Division I college or university.
Three years later, the Kenai River Brown Bears forward can say he accomplished all of it. Beck, 20, signed a letter of intent this week to play D-I hockey at Canisius College of the Atlantic Hockey Conference.
"This is definitely the goal of the entire league, to get a Division I spot," said Beck, who joined the NAHL in 2008-09 as a member of the Marquette (Mich.) Rangers. "I wasn't the top guy my first year or my second year, but I was able to work my way up and be a producer and someone the team can rely on as a leader. It's finally translated into a scholarship."
Beck will join Canisius, located in Buffalo, N.Y., following the Brown Bears' season. He is the fifth Kenai River player to advance to the D-I level.
Kenai River's top goal-scorer will lead the Bears into a pivotal two-game series against the first-place Fairbanks Ice Dogs at 7:30 p.m. today and at the same time Saturday at the Big Dipper Ice Arena.
Fairbanks (28-12-2, 58 points) has a three-point cushion over the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer (26-18-3) for the top spot in the NAHL West Division. The Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild hold third with a record of 25-16-3 and 53 points, while the Bears (22-18-5, 49 points) have a nine-point advantage over the Dawson Creek (British Columbia) Rage for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Kenai River suffered a two-game sweep at Fairbanks earlier this season but went 1-0-1 against the Ice Dogs at home last weekend.
"We're worried about making the playoffs," Beck said.
What the Plymouth, Mich., native doesn't have to worry about his immediate hockey future.
Beck came into contact with Canisius in December when he participated in an invite-only showcase tournament in Boston before college coaches.
Now Beck joins the 12-team Atlantic Hockey Conference, which includes the University of Connecticut, Robert Morris University, Air Force and Army. The Griffiths are currently 8-8-5.
He plans to study business off the ice.
"It's going to be a great experience," Beck said. "I love hockey and education is always important."
An offensive-minded player -- he has tallied 23 goals to go with 26 assists this season with the Bears -- Beck will face stronger, faster opponents in college.
Since the age limit in the NAHL is 20, he also will face more experienced players.
"He's going to have to get bigger, he's going to have to get stronger and defensively he's going to have to be sharp," David said.
Beck has spent the entire season on Kenai River's first line alongside captain Brett Lubanski and Soldotna product Brad Duwe.
Lubanski, the team captain, surpassed Beck as the squad's top point-getter last weekend against the Ice Dogs. He has 50 points and 11 in the fast five games, all multipoint efforts. He is tied for third in the league with 36 assists.
Close friends away from hockey, Lubanski credits Beck for his own success and takes pride in seeing his counterpart succeed.
"Just like I've been there for him, he's been there for me," Lubanski said. "He's been a part of my success just like I've been a part of his. It's a special feeling."
Beck is the first Kenai River athlete to sign with a D-I school since Jake Musselman signed with Air Force last season. During the 2008-09 campaign, three Bears -- Patrick Sullivan, Andrej Sustr and Jared Beers -- landed D-I spots.
Sullivan plays for Canisius.
"It's a big deal," David said. "All the credit goes to Doug. He's bought into the system and worked hard. He's earned it."
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