2024 Gazette Ice Hockey Player of the Year: Cooper Beckwith, Amherst

Amherst’s Cooper Beckwith (9), right, battles for puck possession with Greenfield’s Jack Laurie during action earlier this season. Beckwith was selected as the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s  Ice Hockey Player of the Year.

Amherst’s Cooper Beckwith (9), right, battles for puck possession with Greenfield’s Jack Laurie during action earlier this season. Beckwith was selected as the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Ice Hockey Player of the Year. STAFF FILE PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 04-25-2024 5:28 PM

It was the beginning of the 2021-22 hockey season, and Amherst captain Carter Beckwith and assistant captain Nick Paul were tasked with finding a second assistant captain to round out the group.

It didn’t take long for the pair of seniors to come to a consensus. They wanted Cooper Beckwith, a promising player and the younger brother of Carter, but only a sophomore.

They came to Amherst head coach Mike Rousseau with their request. It was denied. Beckwith was too young, Rousseau said.

“Rouss, this kid is going to be your captain one day,” Carter said. “You might as well start him now.”

Though Carter didn’t win that argument with Rousseau, Beckwith wore the “A” on his jersey last year as a junior, and followed his brother by wearing the “C” this season for Amherst. Beckwith, who attends Hopkins Academy, amassed a team-leading 22 points and led Amherst to a 12-7-1 season this year, the best mark of his high school career.

For his efforts, Beckwith was tabbed as the 2023-24 Daily Hampshire Gazette Ice Hockey Player of the Year.

Rousseau has spent decades coaching Amherst, Agawam, Longmeadow and Cathedral, and said Beckwith is one of his top three captains of all-time. Coaches and family marveled at Beckwith’s calming presence and ability to teach the game. They see him as a future coach.

“He just played the game of hockey the way I wish just about every kid in Division 3 hockey would,” Rousseau said.

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“I wish he was on my team,” Easthampton coach Tim Pfau said. “...When I played, I considered myself to be just like Cooper.”

Beckwith began skating at 3 years old and tagged along to Carter’s practices. He’s always seen his older brother as a model.

“A lot of what I did was what he did,” Beckwith said. “I loved watching him play hockey and I followed in his footsteps.”

Beckwith came up through Amherst youth hockey and played for the Western Mass. Vipers. He earned playing time his freshman year at Amherst, but it wasn’t clear early on that he’d be special, Rousseau said. He was skinny and had yet to hit his growth spurt. But in that sophomore season, with his older brother as a senior captain, Beckwith began to break out.

Beckwith was able to instantly recognize situations on the ice after seeing them only once before. He was a “sponge for knowledge,” Carter said, and was able to constantly think while skating.

“I’ve literally witnessed players be like ‘how did he make that pass? That’s impossible,’” Carter said. “It’s the things that he picks up on that other players don’t”

As he earned more playing time, he earned even more respect from his teammates.

“I had already seen it,” Carter said. “I looked at not only him, but the people around him. I could tell, already as a sophomore, he was born to be a leader on that team.”

Once, a player was frustrated about their lack of playing time. They openly voiced that they should be playing ahead of certain players. Cooper talked with him, and straightened it out.

Another time, a freshman linemate was becoming “too full of himself,” Carter said, and thought the team should have been playing through him more. Carter spoke with the player and Beckwith made sure to as well. Again, they straightened it out.

Though the team struggled, Beckwith was relentlessly optimistic.

“It was always about ‘hey coach, next week, next game we’ll get better,’” Rousseau said. “I really drew on that as a coach.”

Especially as he grew into his upperclassmen years, Beckwith was a de facto coach on the ice. His junior season, Amherst’s captain was goalie Charlie May, which meant Beckwith was usually responsible for being his team’s main voice from his spot at center ice.

He frequently gave suggestions to Rousseau to try to make the team better. Rousseau didn’t accept every suggestion, but he worked with Beckwith to change several aspects of Amherst’s tactics. Beckwith thought their power play needed some work, so the two worked to change it. Beckwith thought Amherst’s forecheck was too conservative, so they worked to open it up and give the Hurricanes more chances to score goals.

And Beckwith was always at the front of the line in drills to help Amherst’s younger players. If a freshman didn’t understand the drill, Beckwith was the first to pull him aside and patiently explain it. If he needed to get out the whiteboard and draw up a play, he did. Even in tryouts for youth hockey, Beckwith helped out in the front of the skating lines.

For all these reasons, Rousseau, Carter, and Beckwith’s father Tom say Beckwith would be a great addition to the coaching ranks.

“I think it would be very rewarding for him,” Tom Beckwith said. “He’s got the right mentality.”

Beckwith has no prior coaching experience, but wants to start.

“I’ve always found coaching really interesting,” Beckwith said. “It’s something I definitely want to look into later, being able to coach the younger generation and make them better. Try and put myself in their shoes and have them have an even better career than I had.”

Beckwith would like to coach 15-16 year olds, where skill development and personality begins, he said. Carter sees him coaching at any age level. Rousseau agreed – Beckwith has an open offer to help out with Amherst practices next year if he stays in the area. And even if it’s not with high schoolers, Rousseau thinks he’d be a great youth coach.

“You put him on a youth team with kids eight, nine, 10 years old, they’re going to have a ball of laughs,” Rousseau said. “They’re going to have a hell of a time and he’s going to be a great coach. He’ll make those connections every coach hopes to and not be the coach you hate, but the coach you love.”

No matter what level Beckwith ends up choosing, or if he does choose to coach at all, he’s proud of the time he spent with Amherst hockey.

“I’ll definitely look back excited and happy that I made this last season the best that I could have,” Beckwith said. “I’m definitely going to get a little sad sometimes looking back at it, because I loved playing Amherst hockey. It was such a great time. The coaches, the team, I just love the team and everything about it so much. I’m going to miss it, but I’m excited to move on to other things and I’ll always be grateful for Amherst hockey.”