Steamboat Springs It wasn’t necessarily the speed of the game or the size of the players that announced to Jake Bearss that he had entered a new level of competition.
What did it was the first time he got punched in the face.
“I was nervous at first,” Bearss said about his first hockey fight with the Flint (Mich.) Junior Generals. “Once I got in there, I was fine. Once you get one, you get sort of used to it.”
Bearss, a 2011 Steamboat Springs High School graduate, has gone from a first-line forward to a third-line grinder. But one thing remains the same: success.
Bearss helped Steamboat to the playoffs in all four of his years there. The Generals just wrapped up their most successful season in the North American Tier III Hockey League.
The team won its league with 73 points. Its 35 wins were a franchise record, and its record of 35-10-3 represented the best winning percentage in franchise history. The team is in the midst of the final four of the Hurster Cup.
“It’s a lot more competitive,” Bearss said. “In high school, it felt like you had to be respectful of everyone. Here, you have to get away with everything you can.”
Bearss spent the summer skating with the Colorado Rampage AAA team. But through some family friends, a scout from the Generals was tipped off to Bearss. He tried out in June and signed a contract soon afterward. Training camp started in August, and Bearss slowly started to make his mark. In 34 games, he scored five goals and had 12 assists.
Now, he is slotted on the third line, where he has traded in carrying the scoring punch for more guile.
“You can’t skate with your head down,” he said. “I’m more of a grinder now. I get in the corner and muck it up.”
Bearss and the Generals open with Toledo in the opening game of the Hurster Cup this weekend.
Bearss said he would like to hook on with a North American Hockey League team after the season if possible. He said he also would like to get a look from a college program.
“I miss a little bit of the social aspect of life,” he said.
Regardless, he is happy to still be playing hockey.
“I just want to keep the game alive,” he said.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com