George Beach was one of the most famous and prolific Canadians to play in this country. His name was synonymous with ice hockey at Wembley, where he iced for 14 seasons after World War Two until the Lions’ demise in 1968.
The hustling, bustling forward was an instant success on his debut for the Lions in 1947-48, shortly after his 21st birthday. He helped himself to a brace of goals and four assists in his first game and ended the season on top of the club’s scoring list in two major competitions, the National League and National Tournament.
Two campaigns with the Lions’ stablemates the Monarchs followed, winning the Autumn Cup and National Tournament in 1948-49 and topping their points scorers in 1949-50. After re-joining the Lions in 1950-51 he helped them to the league title and headed their scoring chart.
Known as ‘the Regina Peach’ after his birthplace and rosy cheeks, he was twice voted onto the All-Star teams organised by the Ice Hockey World, making the ‘A’ squad in 1949-50 and the ‘B’ team in 1950-51. In April 1951 Wembley’s fans awarded him the Curtis Bennett Bowl for sportsmanship in perpetuity after he had won it for three years in a row.
He spent much of the late 1950s on the continent playing and coaching in Italy and Switzerland, but he often returned to this country as the European season ended early, and helped variously Brighton Tigers, Harringay Racers and Nottingham Panthers.
He came back for good in 1959 re-joining the Lions for the last season of the British National League, when he distinguished himself by winning the team’s scoring race again and being named to the All-Star ‘B’ team.
Three seasons of non-league hockey followed, mostly with Southampton Vikings, where he set a club record for assists with 154 in 71 games between 1960-61 and 1962-63. He took over as player-coach in the latter season.
George donned the Lions’ famous red and white strip again in 1963-64 when the Empire Pool promoted games again, and stayed until the club was suddenly disbanded forever in November 1968.
After a spell in the Southern League with the homeless Wembley Vets in 1970-71, he finally hung up his skates, leaving an impressive scoring record of 1,334 points (608 goals) in 628 official league games, with 236 penalty minutes. His points tally stands fifth all-time among those who played senior league hockey before 1960.
When he returned to action in 1975, this time from the bench, he knew it was in a losing cause as Britain had very few ice rinks by the 1970s. “I guess we are about five years behind the times in terms of preparation and experience,” he said. Despite his best efforts, GB lost all their games in the Pondus Cup in Denmark and Pool C of the 1976 World Championships in Poland.
As a teenager, Beach was spotted by an NHL scout and recommended to the Chicago Blackhawks. After attending their training camp, he was assigned to play the 1945-46 season on their minor league club, Kansas City Pla-Mors, in the United States Hockey League.
George Francis Beach was born on 4 October 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan and died in Devon, England on 12 December 2016. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.