It’s all in how you say his name.
When chanted by fans around the NHL — and some in Anaheim who have had cause to consider Kevin Bieksa too mistake-prone and slow to keep up in today’s NHL — it’s pronounced “Bee-EKK-saaa,” with each syllable drawn out and sung in a mocking tone.
To Sami Vatanen, he’s “Bee-ASK,” minus the final ‘’a.” Bieksa finds that amusing. “He claims he doesn’t speak English,” Bieksa said of his Finnish teammate.
Don Cherry, a famously bombastic Canadian TV personality, pronounces it “Bee-ESS-ka,” a mistake Bieksa suspects is deliberate and is part of Cherry’s bluster. “He knows. That’s part of the joke,” said Bieksa, who remembers Cherry attending his team’s season-ending awards dinners and posing for photos when Bieksa was 5 years old.
On Tuesday, Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle pronounced Bieksa’s name with a distinct air of respect, and with good reason. “We like Kevin Bieksa,” Carlyle said. “I don’t care what anybody else says about him, personally.”
Carlyle and his coaching staff appreciated the physical price Bieksa paid on Monday in the Ducks’ comeback for a 5-4 overtime victory over the Flames, which gave them a 3-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series that resumes Wednesday in Calgary.
A popular target in the Flames’ strategy of being physical against the Ducks’ depleted defense corps, Bieksa twice went to the locker room for repairs but contributed two assists and a stellar block on a Calgary two-on-one rush. “It felt like a playoff game,” Bieksa said, and he didn’t have to say anything else.
Carlyle said he believes Bieksa’s competitiveness is a good example for his teammates, and it certainly fueled what Carlyle called Bieksa’s best performance of the season. Bieksa took no penalties, dished out two hits and turned the other cheek, never straying from Carlyle’s game plan.
“And he holds other people accountable. I’d like to say that he’s going to play mistake-free hockey, and I would say no because that’s the type of player he is and I don’t think there’s a player on the ice surface who doesn’t make mistakes,” Carlyle said. “But when you’re in the position of playing defense, usually the mistakes you happen to make are on display in a much grander situation because of where it is on the ice.
“But all I know is that when he’s on our back end, he’s a competitive guy, he’s a team guy, he’s going to go out and give you what he’s got. That’s all you can ask of an individual. And he’s one of our leaders.”
In addition, Bieksa — the Ducks’ oldest defenseman at 35 — supported an outstanding effort Monday by their youngest defenseman, Shea Theodore, as if there were no age gap between them. There’s no gap, at least in Bieksa’s mind, between him and any of the Ducks’ young defensemen.
“I don’t feel that old. Like a twin maybe, maybe like an older twin, six minutes older,” Bieksa said. “Luckily I can go down to their level sometimes and have fun with them.”
“I wouldn’t define him as an old guy. I feel like we’ve got two young guys back there when we’re on the ice,” said Theodore, who scored twice in Game 3 and led NHL defensemen in playoff scoring through Monday’s games (with two goals and five points). “I feel like we’re really feeding off each other and he’s a veteran guy with a lot of experience, and that always helps.”
Bieksa said watching Theodore keeps him feeling young and that he enjoys the youngster’s company — for the most part.
“When he starts talking about playoff games that he watched me play 10 years ago I don’t really like that too much. I don’t like when he brings those conversations up,” Bieksa said, smiling. “But it’s fun to see some of the young guys coming up. It kind of reenergizes you a bit to see their passion, and they’re still trying to make a name for themselves. I enjoy that part.”
Carlyle cautioned that the Ducks will have to play much better than they did Monday against the Flames, who have scored five power-play goals in 13 advantages but suffered when goaltender Brian Elliott allowed some soft goals. Flames Coach Glen Gulutzan wouldn’t say Tuesday if Elliott will start. Rookie Matthew Tkachuk said the Flames can play freely because they have nothing to lose.
“We’re going to be trying to do everything in our power to send a message and just make them a little bit nervous over there,” Tkachuk said.
That’s where Bieksa can help again. “I think we’re a mentally tough team. I think that’s one of our most underestimated qualities. We have some really good veteran guys and the room is kept in the right mindset,” he said. “We’re deep. We don’t rely on one or two guys. We rely on the whole team.”
The playoffs are supposed to be where you make your name. Bieksa is making his name known again, no matter how people pronounce it.