Beau McCue stood outside the Tri-City Americans’ dressing room Sunday following a 4-1 loss to Portland. The rookie forward had four stitches in his chin, but for McCue they were more a badge of honor than an injury.
“It’s all part of the game,” he said.
From stitches to bruises, from the fourth line to the top line, McCue, 17, has been absorbing every second of time with the Americans, and it has paid off with nine goals, seven assists and a plus-6 rating in 29 games.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming in,” McCue said. “I watched last year and I tried adjust my game when I came here this year, and I have gotten used to the style of play. I’m trying to do my best, and it’s working out pretty good.”Much to the delight of coach Jim Hiller, whose roster sports five rookies.
“What I attribute most to his success is he came in last year and joined us that last month,” Hiller said. “I think he gave himself a head start for this season. He is someone we thought would be in and out of the lineup — a big strong guy getting his feet wet. In 3 1/2 months he has worked himself up to playing as many minutes as the top guys.”
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound McCue leads the Americans rookies in scoring with 16 points, a feat Hiller said he didn’t foresee.
“We had high expectations for him, but we didn’t expect to lean on him as hard as we are,” Hiller said. “He is physical and he gets pucks deep. What we are seeing is he has a enough skill — he shoots the puck well — to be an offensive threat too. When you are physical, create loose pucks and you have a touch of offense, you can complement other players, and that’s what he is doing.”
McCue has worked his way up from the fourth line to the top line with Justin Feser and Malte Strömwall, the team’s top two scorers. He has four goals this month, including the Americans’ lone goal Sunday against Portland.
“They are great hockey players, and we feed off each other pretty well,” McCue said of his linemates. “We make some passes wide and get it to the net. They help me out when I make mistakes, and I help them too. I like to go down in the corners, and they are really good about supporting me.”
McCue, listed by Tri-City in 2010, is a rarity in the Western Hockey League. He and Jacob Doty of Medicine Hat are the only two players from Montana among the roughly 525 players in the league. McCue hails from Missoula, while Doty is from Billings.
“Hockey is pretty big in Montana, but it’s localized,” McCue said. “We don’t really travel out of state much. It kind of stays in the state. The only way to get out is to go somewhere. That’s what I did.”
McCue, who played for the Missoula Bruins when he was younger, left home at 13 to pursue his hockey dreams and moved out of his parents house at 15 to play in Phoenix.
“I guess I got out, but it was unreal playing in Montana,” McCue said. “I wouldn’t change a thing. There aren’t that many teams in Montana, but there are rivalries and such competition in the state that when you play a team, you play two games against them in a weekend and you are dead. It’s so intense. It’s an unreal feeling.”
Kennewick is a little closer to Missoula than Phoenix, but McCue said his parents have been great about letting him find his way in the hockey world.
“My parents, when I first moved out, they were nervous,” McCue said. “But they knew it needed to happen. They taught me what’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong. They trusted me, and it’s worked out well. They are letting me do my own thing more, and it’s working out well.”