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Inside Beau Akey’s Ascension Towards the NHL

When Phillip Barski joined the Barrie Colts coaching staff at the beginning of the 2022-23 season, he didn’t waste any time getting to work. Having coached in a number of professional hockey leagues across North America and Europe, Barski returned to Canada, itching to bring a winning culture to the Colts organization.

His first order of business? A phone call with each of the team’s defensemen. After all, the seasoned coach was set to take over a youthful Colts blueline, and an introductory phone call seemed to be a great place to make an impression. A simple move, yes, but an essential one to make prior to stepping foot into a new locker room.

I wanted to establish some sort of relationship before I showed up for the first time”, Barski says.

And it was during their first phone call that Barski first caught wind of Beau Akey and what he brought to the table.

At the time, Akey was struggling with a lingering shoulder injury, an injury that was threatening the entirety of his draft-eligible season. Hockey aside, Barski’s first interactions with Akey revolved around looking at surgery options and contemplating missing the vast majority of the season.

“It wasn’t so much getting to know him, it was more so being there for him and understanding what he was going through”, Barski remembers, peering out the window of his Ottawa hotel room. The Colts were in the home stretch of the regular season, closing out the year on the road. “Just seeing how determined he was, trying to play through everything, he really cared about the team and showcasing his talents to the scouts.” 

When training camp opened later that summer, Akey had made massive strides in his recovery, opening the door to a substantial role during the upcoming season. With the blueline already missing two longtime pillars in Nathan Allensen (USPORTS) and Brandt Clarke (NHL), the opportunity to excel in a bigger role was well within reach.

“Last season, I had a bit more support on the backend, I had a lot of guys to learn from”, Akey says. “My mentality entering this season was different, I knew I had to prove myself and prove my value.”

“I had to do what I could to showcase myself in every way.”

And it was that exact mentality that stood out to Barski and the rest of the coaching staff ever since day one of training camp.

Akey protects the puck during a playoff game against Hamilton (Photo: Josh Kim)
Akey protects the puck during a playoff game against Hamilton (Photo: Josh Kim)

As the opening weeks of the season came and went, Barski’s expectations were continuously surpassed. Akey’s athleticism, his ability to skate “above the ice” as he described it, carried a young Colts backend to success in the early stages of the season.

“Sometimes it doesn’t even look like he’s going 100%”, Barski explains. “He’s explosive, but plays a calm and cerebral game.”

Despite being thrown into a substantial role, playing on both the top power play and penalty kill unit, consistently playing against some of the best players in the league, Akey excelled. He always found an extra gear. He longed for playing big minutes. Factor in the pressure of the upcoming NHL Draft, and Barski was always astounded with what the Waterloo-native was accomplishing.

“Every time I would go to him and ask ‘Can you play here?’ or ‘Can you do this?’, he never gave me a no”, Barski explains. “He always finds the ability to make it work.”

For Akey, he savoured every opportunity. He knew he had to step up. He knew he had to fill a bigger role. He knew what the team was asking.

Akey attacks the offensive zone (Photo: Josh Kim)
Akey attacks the offensive zone (Photo: Josh Kim)

Even when news broke that Brandt Clarke was returning to the Colts, nothing changed in Akey’s game day routine or mentality. Even though he was well aware that a lot of the bigger opportunities were now unlikely to fall on his plate, he still savoured the added defensive responsibility.

“I knew we were getting some great support on the backend and I knew we were going to win some games”, Akey says, shifting in his seat. His packed bags sat by the door of the hotel room. “Clarke does a lot for us, but I played the same game. I knew I had to be a bit more responsible defensively.”

Akey continued to make an impact on and off the ice, despite playing in a reduced role. Earlier in the season, Barski would find one on one time with his sophomore defenseman to discuss fundamentals. Stick details, body positioning and awareness were often the foundation of these meetings. However, as the season continued, Barski eventually told him that the meetings had run their course.

“I just went to him and said ‘you’re game is going so well, I’m going to leave you alone now. You’ve got this. Keep going.”

Now with the NHL Draft just over a month away, Barski is now more confident than ever that Akey has earned a place in the NHL.

“You’re getting a first class human. You’re getting a guy that will contribute and enhance your culture. You’re getting a guy that’s first on the ice at practice and the last to leave”, he explains. “You’re getting a real good two-way defenseman.”

———

While Chris Playfair’s junior hockey days are behind him, he remains entrenched in the culture of the game. The Waterloo-native played parts of five seasons with the Windsor Spitfires, before joining the USPORTS ranks with Toronto Metropolitan University. Aside from majoring in business, he also runs a hockey school in the Waterloo area during the summer.

It was at that same hockey school that Playfair first saw Beau Akey skate. Despite it being a regular, run-of-the-mill offseason training session, Akey’s skating ability quickly but the longtime OHL veteran on notice.

“I didn’t really know too much about him at the time, but the first thing you notice is his skating. He’s such a smooth skater”, he explains, putting his feet up in stands of Toronto’s Mattamy Athletic Centre. The sounds of a student-run hockey game echo through the empty arena, cascading off of the domed roof. “Out of pretty much everyone I’ve played with, trained with or skated with, I would easily put him amongst the top three skaters that I’ve skated with.”

Being from the Kitchener area, Akey first skated with Playfair simply to get on the ice in the summer. He was already home during the offseason, working out and continuously finding ways to improve, so it only made sense to keep pushing that narrative forward.

Skating with Playfair’s group for the last two summers, Akey has since added a coaching element to his game, helping run a handful of defensive clinics. A decision, as Playfair explains, was very easy to make.

“My business partner and I, we’re both forwards. So we wanted to find a good defenseman who now only had the personality to coach, but also someone who was able to demonstrate what drills should look like at the highest level”, he says, as his TMU hat pulls at his curled hair. “Right away, we thought of Beau. And as the summer went on, he really came into his own it was pretty cool to see his progression.”

Akey warming up before a game in Kitchener (Photo: Josh Kim)
Akey warming up before a game in Kitchener (Photo: Josh Kim)

Since joining as a coach, Akey has been able to reflect on his own personal hockey experience. Having been in the same shoes as some of the kids he’s had the pleasure of coaching, it’s brought a different level of gratitude for the time and dedication that it takes to succeed.

“When I was getting taught by some older guys who played in the OHL, I thought it was the best time in the world”, Akey recalls with a smile. “Now, it brings me a lot of joy to watch those kids have so much fun with me on the ice.”

Even though they’ve never been teammates, Playfair has seen Akey in every facet of the hockey environment. And as both a player and as a coach, his confidence in Akey has only continued to grow. Having him there as someone not only running the skates, but also being the best player on the ice, gives everyone else another reason to pay attention. Everyone else just seems to follow.

And while Playfair doesn’t find a ton of time to watch the Colts in action, every time he sees a post involving Akey, he makes it a habit to reach out to him.

“I think if you look around the NHL right now, those smooth skating defensemen are so valuable. It’s one thing to be a great skater, but to go out and be able to make plays is so essential. Beau’s really got that and he brings so much value to a team”, Playfair says, pausing as if to find the words to describe Akey’s playing ability.

“Every time he touches the ice, he’s out there to get better.”

Akey carrying the puck (Photo: Josh Kim)
Akey carrying the puck (Photo: Josh Kim)

Now with the NHL Draft looming in the distance, Playfair wants to share what he’s already known for years: Akey is built for today’s NHL.

“His personality almost matches his playing style, there’s no panic. He’s a good teammate and you see that in his play. He brings so much value as a person”, he states. “On the ice he’s so reliable and talented. Off the ice, you’re getting a really high character guy and someone that everyone wants in their room.”

———

Nathan Allensen’s relationship with Beau Akey started over a game of basketball. The two grew up in the Kitchener-Waterloo area and often indulged in other sports throughout the summer. After crossing paths on the basketball court, Allensen had recognized Akey’s name when the Colts drafted him 19th overall in the 2021 OHL Draft.

Shortly after, Allensen’s minor hockey coach asked him to give him a call. Surprisingly, the two had both spent their adolescent years playing in the Waterloo Wolves minor hockey system. Now, they were set to be teammates with the Colts.

Playing in Barrie at the time, Allensen was always in search of what was next for the organization. He was always talking with the team’s scouts about who was coming through the pipeline or talking to coaches about what was next for the team. Between his chats with the Colts personnel and his old minor hockey coach, he already had the intel on what kind of player Akey would be.

“Coming from minor midget to the OHL, Akey had a great first year. He was a vital part in that core and he got to play some big minutes and was relied upon a lot”, Allensen explains. “I think that really helped his development and being able to learn off of some of the older guys really helped him strive when he was called upon.”

Beau Akey (Photo: Josh Kim)
Beau Akey (Photo: Josh Kim)

Allensen played his entire junior hockey career in Barrie, having worn the ‘C’ for parts of his final season. Priding himself on a mentorship role, he made it a priority to make rookies feel welcome. But with Akey, things were just different from the start.

“We already had that hometown bond, I’d pick him up everyday going to the rink, I’d kind of be his shuttle service when he couldn’t drive in his first year”, Allensen says with a laugh. “It’s something that I look to do with all the rookies but with Akey especially, being from the same hometown made that big brother feeling.”

Those drives to and from the rink emphasized a special bond between the two, so much so that they developed a routine during their commutes. According to Allensen, it became mandatory to blast EDM music all the way from the suburbs of Barrie to Sadlon Arena.

“Most people probably can’t listen to that type of music, but me and him have that going for us”, Allensen says. “It’s pretty cool seeing where he is now, and it’s a great feeling knowing that I’ve been a part of that in any way I can.”

After leaving Barrie behind for the men’s hockey program at the University of Guelph, Allensen’s focus has shifted from hockey to final exams. Still, he finds time to stay up to date with everything the Colts are up to.

“I don’t want to say that I expected it, but I saw the strides he made in his first year and that he was setting himself up for a good season this year”, Allensen explains. “I saw at this year’s Top Prospects Game, he was one of the best skaters there and that’s so important for defensemen in today’s game. His IQ is second to none and there are so many things that make him a great prospect.”

 

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