He was a stand-up guy
Fighting came easy to ex-Flyer
Don Dirk was Kyle Beach before Kyle Beach.
That was back in the days of the senior Spokane Flyers, before there were the junior Spokane Chiefs.
Beach was the Western Hockey League player Chiefs’ fans loved to hate.
A talented forward who would become Rookie of the Year for Everett and a first-round draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks, Beach is also a first-rate agitator.
Two games into this season, Beach was traded to Spokane and he admitted to a little anxiety before his first shift, but two goals in his debut and 21 goals in 26 games later, the past is forgotten.
Dirk doesn’t recall any animosity toward him from the fans when he arrived in Spokane for the Flyers’ 1974-75 season in the Western International Hockey League.
“I think the fans liked me right away (because) I was on their side, not against them,” he said.
But he admitted, “This was 30-some years ago. I must have been 24 or 25. I know I had long hair.”
Whether he wanted to admit it or not, he came by his roll of villain fair and square.
Dirk was playing for the Kimberley Dynamiters in the 1973-74 season when his cross check of Spokane’s Ken Gustafson ignited a bench-clearing brawl.
The incident became part of Spokane’s legacy, according to the book “Saturday Night’s Were Special,” the history of hockey in Spokane:
“The main event, however, featured the smallish 5-foot-8 Ernie Gare Jr., who came racing across the ice, jumped on the 6-4 Dirk’s back and began non-stop wailing on his much bigger foe.”
Not that there is any embellishment involved, but the Don Dirk entry in the hockey record book lists him at 6-foot.
As for his involvement, Dirk has no more recollection of that than any bad blood that lingered into the next season, after he was not re-signed by the Dynamiters and picked up by the Flyers.
“Well, there were a few (fights),” he said. “You have to stand up or they just kept taking little chips at you and that wears somebody down. So, when you laid the law down everybody remembered and respected you.”
Dirk comes by the no gee-whiz attitude naturally; it’s the attitude of many farmers and ranchers.
After five seasons with the Flyers, he returned to the 12,000-acre family farm outside Empress, Alberta, (“If you say it real fast it sounds like Memphis.”) where he raises grain and about 350 head of Black Angus cattle.
“I took over my dad’s farm when I came back from playing hockey,” he said. “I knew which way (my career) was going. My last year in Spokane – it was 1979, I think. That’s the year I separated my shoulder, twice. That finished me.”
Dirk played for the Medicine Hat Tigers, which is 85 miles from Empress, in the late ‘60s and pursued his NHL dream in the minor leagues back east, and also attended a couple of NHL training camps, before signing with Kimberley.
“I was slowing down and didn’t want to go back east again,” he said. “They were looking for players in Kimberley.
Dirk had a fondness for Spokane, even if he had a funny way of showing it.
“I sort of wanted to go there but I could never get there,” he said. “Trades were rare. It was hard to get into Spokane’s lineup because they had so many good players. It was tough no matter what position you played. I had to go the long way around to get the opportunity to get there.”
The reason Dirk preferred Spokane was simple.
“The fans,” he said. “They were unbelievable. The fans supported the hockey club. There were lots of fans and they even went on road trips.”
Although statistics are spotty, Dirk had a productive career in Spokane, that included plenty of penalty minutes and his hockey highlight, Spokane winning the Allan Cup in 1976.
“Five of the best years in my life were in Spokane,” he said.
He met his wife, Janice, a Walla Walla native going to school in Spokane, and they were married in 1978.
They have two children, Jared, 24, who works on the farm, and Darcy, 19, who is in college.
The farm life is pefect for Dirk – even if he said, “I don’t have no hair left from the stress of farming.”
“I like that you’re your own boss; you handle your own stress,” he said. “I get a lot of enjoyment from the wide-open spaces and I like challenges. Every year there are different challenges.”
But just like he knew when his hockey career reached an end, he’ll know when it’s time to quit farming.
“I’ll stay here until I get chased off,” Dirk said. “I’m 56, in 5, 10 years it will be time to slow down completely. I’ll probably start slowing down next year, Jared will go up the ladder and I’ll go down.”
He’s done that before and it turned out just fine.