by Jashvina Shah
Max Becker saw his first pair of skates when he was two years old. They were a Fisher Price model, $15, composed of plastic and sitting on the shelf at Toys “R” Us.
Becker was fascinated by the skates.
But his mom, Carolyn, wouldn’t buy the pair. So Max picked up the skates and carried them with him throughout the store. Finally, Carolyn bought them.
“I skated on them everyday in our like living room and then eventually they just put me on ice,” Becker said.
The next two decades of hockey took Becker on a journey from his native Southern California to hockey-centric Minnesota, famed Shattuck St. Mary’s, the BCHL and eventually Princeton hockey.
“He’s a mix between a skilled forward and a hard worker,” Becker’s Shattuck teammate Andrew Farny said. “He has the skill set of a skilled forward but he doesn’t just rely on that.”
Becker’s sophomore season at Shattuck, when he won a national championship, intrigued Salmon Arm of the BCHL. The SilverBacks began courting Becker during the 2012-13 season, his senior year.
That season, Salmon Arm general manager Troy Mick met Becker and his dad, Kevin, for breakfast. Mick knew instantly he wanted Max.
“It was really obvious for us that he wants to be a hockey player,” Mick said.
“He was equally motivated to be great at both aspects of a student-athlete and then as an athlete-student, so that came across perfectly clear with him and his goals and what he wanted to achieve.”
But Becker ultimately chose the Penticton Vees, located about two and a half hours south of Salmon Arm. After arriving at Penticton, B.C., Becker struggled to find playing time and his role in the organization. He skated in three contests with the Vees, recording zero points.
“Penticton had a very good hockey team and Max was having a tough time trying to fit into the role that he wanted to play,” Mick said.
In late September, Penticton called Mick and asked if Salmon Arm still wanted Becker. Mick said yes.
“I was disappointed that he didn’t choose us in the first place,” Mick said. “However I’m always a believer in giving somebody a second chance and an opportunity.”
At Salmon Arm, Becker reunited with two things – his old Shattuck teammate Andrew Farny and a playing role. The SilverBacks knew Becker could play on any line or help as a defensive forward.
“He could be on that defensive side on the puck or you can put him on the top line from a goal scoring component,” Becker said. “He’s a very diversified player, which was obviously a lot of coaches love because if he’s not scoring goals he has that defensive game as well.”
The Untraditional Market
After grazing his living room floor with his first model of Fisher Price skates, Becker took the ice. Growing up in an untraditional hockey market like Orange, Calif., Becker and his family woke up every Sunday at 7 a.m. and drove 15 minutes to Anaheim Ice to skate.
As he got older, Becker moved from morning skate sessions to organized hockey, where he played in California until he was 16 years old.
“It was weird because a lot of kids at high school, they don’t really understand what you’re going through or why you have to leave every weekend and miss every Friday of school,” Becker said.
The forward laced up for the Los Angeles Selects in California, a team he won two national titles with.
“It was difficult, but at the same time we were surrounded by such great people and people who cared so much that it really made it fun and it was new,” Becker said.
When Becker was 14 years old, his team played at Shattuck St. Mary’s, the Minnesota prep school. Historically known as one of the top prep programs in the country, Shattuck has produced alums like the NHL’s Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, Sydney Crosby and Joe Corvo.
The program boasts a seven-month playing schedule, practice sessions five days a week that span an hour and 15 minute and a strength and conditioning program for each team.
At that age, Becker was too young to go to Shattuck. But he knew he wanted to play there.
“It’s something that a lot of hockey players from California really want to do,” Becker said.
A couple years later, Becker was looking for the next piece of his hockey development. After debating between several options, he picked Shattuck.
“We just figured that Shattuck was the best blend of hockey, school and living situation,” Becker said.
Located in Faribault, Minn., Shattuck rests roughly 1,872 miles away from where Becker grew up playing hockey in California.
“It was tough at first, but eventually you make friends and it becomes fun. I lived in the dorms and your best friends live right across hall and you don’t have to go far. And everyone’s in the same situation too, which makes it a lot easier,” Becker said.
“I was surrounded by such great people who cared so much. It was an awesome experience.”
In each of his two years at Shattuck, Becker averaged over a point per game. In his first season, Becker tallied 70 points (34g, 36a) over 57 games. In 2012-13, he netted 55 points over 50 games.
“He was involved in a National Championship there,” Mick said. “They’ve got a phenomenal coaching staff, great history and program and he was one of the leading scorers.”
The small town of Salmon Arm, B.C., rests on the Shuswap Lake, encompassed by mountains and Mount Ida. It falls between Calgary and Vancouver, less than 330 miles away from each Canadian city. Tourism British Columbia lists the population of community-centric Salmon Arm, once an agricultural center, at 16,305 people.
“It’s such a familial environment here,” Becker said. “The town is completely behind us. You can’t even go out without people being like, ‘Oh hey you play for the SilverBacks?’”
In the first week of October, shortly after the trade to Salmon Arm, Becker was in the lineup against Penticton, his former team. On that night, Becker scored his first BCHL goal in a 5-2 victory.
But t wasn’t all easy for Becker in Salmon Arm, as injuries forced Becker out of a few contests.
“That’s the worst because you can’t play and there’s really nothing you can do but just wait,” Becker said. “All you want to do is get back out on the ice, and most times you can’t.”
Despite the injuries and missed games, Becker stayed involved with the team and the community. He aided the SilverBacks with promotions and always met fans at the rink.
“He has an incredible smile,” Mick said. “And he was always somebody that you could look at and no matter what the day was, you’d never know because he was always smiling.
“That says a lot for this young man’s character because he went through such a hardship [of] wanting to play more, wanting to contribute to the team more. … He just wanted to support everybody around.
“None of the people would’ve known [what he was going through].”
Becker’s always positive attitude is something Andrew Farny first noticed when the pair met at Shattuck.
“If teammates are feeling down, he’s always the first one to come and try to pick you up or give you some helpful advice,” Farny said. “You never really hear him be negative on either himself or anyone else.”
The day they met was Becker’s first at Shattuck. He walked up to Farny, no nerves, and asked a question.
“He’s obviously pretty confident on the ice, but also off the ice he’s confident,” Farny said. “He just has that aura about him where he can walk into any situation and make not only himself comfortable, but the people around him comfortable too.”
Becker carries that attitude whether it’s on the ice, off the ice, or on an eight-hour bus ride when all the players are sick.
“He was sick and throwing up on the bus,” Farny said. “Throwing up on a bus is never fun, but he was never negative about it. He always had a smile on his face,”.
“It was pretty funny to see how positive he was even though he wasn’t feeling well and was throwing up.”
The Complete Player
The Orange, Calif., native still laced up for 32 games for Salmon Arm over the 2013-14 season, netting 13 points (6g, 7a). The playing time provided Becker enough time to develop.
“He was definitely more of a complete hockey player by the time he left,” Mick said.
After a two-year stint and 125 points at Shattuck, Becker was known for his offense. Now the 5-foot-10 forward focuses on other aspects of his game.
“He’s come into being more of a worker,” Farny said. “He was skilled, but now he understands the part of the game where he has to go into the corners and dig out pucks. That’s really helped him develop and definitely helped him get noticed by colleges.”
Becker wanted to play college hockey, and living in Minnesota – a college hockey hotbed – strengthened his decision.
“It’s pretty similar, like when I was playing for my school and the whole student body’s behind you,” Becker said. “That’s a pretty awesome experience.”
Becker visited Princeton after his sophomore year of high school. Attracted by the community, atmosphere commitment to athletics and education, Becker decided on Princeton.
“I’m pretty excited to just see all the people there and a pretty diverse community and obviously pretty intelligent, which will be pretty nice to be a part of,” Becker said.
At about 2,737 miles away from his hometown, the journey to Princeton, N.J., is the farthest of Becker’s career.
“I know in his mind he would really like to be one of the go-to guys when he gets to Princeton,” Mick said. “He’s going to work hard for it. He’s very committed, he’s very dedicated, he’s great in the community and I think he’ll continue those traits at Princeton.”