Jay Beagle, in playoffs last season

Jay Beagle and I were teammates for two years at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and hung out pretty regularly. He’s a good guy from Calgary who committed himself more and more to the game as he got older, never stopped improving, and has been rewarded along the way. He’s a Washington Capital now, meaning he’s finally achieved his life-long dream to play in the NHL. He turns 26 on Sunday.

For guys like Jay who go to college at an older age, nobody is holding any doors open for you on the way up. Kids are drafted every year that scouts and coaches have attached their names too, and in the end, they want to be right about who was worth investing in.

So, you have to open your own doors. You have to be so much better than the next kid with an NHL team attached to him that they can’t, with a straight face, play him over you.

Jay did that – from the NCAA to the ECHL to the AHL to the NHL.

Jay was never going to be a pure NHL scorer, despite being a good offensive player. The facts were that to tack that extra zero onto the end of his paycheck and take a run at getting his name on the Stanley Cup, he was going to have to do everything else perfectly and unselfishly. When it comes to that fourth line roster spot, teams don’t show much allegiance. They often consider those guys interchangeable and they don’t want to have to worry about them, so you best do your job if you want that spot.

Always a hard worker

Players like Jay knows this as well as anyone. The thing is, Jay isn’t a fourth liner. He’s not a first liner either. He’s a good player with a big body and nice hands and will sacrifice himself for the good of the team. He’ll do his job. He can’t be soft, he can’t pass up checks, and he needs to make those minutes per game count to stick.

When he hits Kris Letang in that game last night – and in all honesty, it looked like he went to give him a good shove and caught him with a bit more forearm than he wanted to – he was making his minutes count. Get another shot in on their better players, atta guy.

So when Asham asks him to go after that, he knows he can’t turn down that fight. He’s in the spotlight there, and those are the moments where you have to show the men keeping you on the team that you have brass balls, and if you don’t think it takes brass balls to drop your gloves in a hockey fight, you’re nuts. Now picture it during a widely televised Capitals-Penguins game, after you know you just did something borderline, against Arron Asham, when you know you’re not a fighter and aren’t really certain what to do.

Huge. Gigantic. Brass. Balls.

Knowing how rosters are built and keeping his career in mind, he has to fight Asham there. Has to. Or, they might find someone who will. Not the next day, probably not the next week and maybe not the next month, but it’s just another thing they’ve filed away.

Boy, it’d sure be nice if we could fill that 5 minutes a game with a guy who won’t be intimidated in big moments.

You can’t leave them thinking you’re the type to back down. This is professional sports, and that stuff does matter.

Whether you like the way the game works or not, that was happening.

I was sick watching my friend on the ice there. I’ve had my nose broken in a fight at 17 years old in junior B hockey, while I played in Osoyoos. Blood filled my visor as I lay on the ice, and I knew it was time to get a little medical assistance. I was scared before and after the bad decision, and I’m sure Jay was too.

But, he answered the bell, and unfortunately, the worst case scenario ended up happening. It won’t always.

Maybe it’ll change in the future. Maybe you think he should’ve passed that one up. But when you’re that close to the big time and your spot on the team is tenuous… you have to fight there.

So he did.

*****

(Note: getting a lot of “Beagle asked Asham to go” messages. That just furthers the point about the ”making those minutes count” pressures. ….though it does kinda make the title suck now. Ah well.)