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.)

Comments (16)

  1. This is the thing I’ve been thinking about. It’s a huge shift in values to take fighting out of the league. Last night Lapierre of the Canucks was on the end of a number of punches thrown by Justin Abdelkader of the Wings. When it was his time to face the music, he turtled. And he’s reviled by fans for doing so. But if we want fighting – and the horrible consequences that can come from it, like Beagle’s injury – we have to change our attitude towards the turtlers.

    • I’m not following your logic here. I think you are saying that if we don’t want to see players hurt in fights we need to begin to accept turtling. Is that right?

  2. One problem. According to Asham, Beagle rang the bell.

    If true, that’s an important distinction. Doesn’t take away from your main point, but does change the context a bit.

  3. I watched the game and I seriously doubt Beagle asked Asham to go. It would not fit the situation and , from what I have seen from the guy, it would not fit Beagle’s personality. Fighting is not my favorite part of the sport, but I know it is here to stay. This fight did not make me any more uncomfortable then the others and I certainly have a ton of respect for guys that do it. I could have done with out the professional wrestling nonsense at the end, but that is Asham.

  4. Beagle didn’t start it. Asham didn’t start it. Kris Letang did. He tried to take a liberty with someone he perceived to be a 4th line player, and when that player fought back, he sent over a goon after him. Letang started that whole encounter, but somehow escaped a penalty. Asham clearly started that fight, but somehow escaped an instigator. Asham wants to talk about players policing themselves, well then shouldn’t that mean someone going and starting something with Letang after that play?

  5. Still waiting to see if you think a Dallas player needs a video made by Shannahammer??

    He clearly leaves the ice with his skates, throws a dirty elbow to Andy McDonald’s head, I don’t understand how he’s not targeting the head with that either??? (A call isn’t even made, those ref’s seemed to be still shaking the rust off I guess)

    Then a skirmish occurs as McDonald drops to the ice for his 3rd Concussion of his career..

    Blues now have 3 players out with concussions.. The League only suspended Thornton for 2 games, for Perron being out going on over 75+games.. The League didn’t hold Blake Geoffrion accountable for his trip into the boards, following up with his skate to the head of Colaiacovo…..

    ……. /End Rant

  6. Agreed Stu, but it just furthers the point, as I’ve added to the bottom of the column. Really just trying to explain the reasoning/balls behind it.

    Sioux, haven’t seen it yet, remarkably. Thanks for reading folks.

  7. Excellent perspective on what it must be like to be always on the edge of being able to “make the team”. It’s sad that these borderline NHLers need to go to the extent of sacrificing themselves to prove their worth in the league (either with this or other teams), but as in life, often it comes down to what you are willing to sacrifice to make it in a competitive business like the NHL.

    Best wishes to Jay Beagle. Here’s hoping for a quick turnaround to be back with the squad and hoping for the day that he won’t have to “answer the bell” for his spot on an NHL team.

    • I don’t really think it’s sad. Somebody will always be on the bubble, and most of the time, they will be putting themselves in harm’s way to prove that they can contribute. I think that is the opposite of sad. I think that’s what makes sports compelling.

      • Well, I guess that’s where folks just have different opinions. I just think it sucks that the borderline NHL players feel compelled to not just do everything they can to be better hockey players, but to also feel compelled to fight when they are clearly outmatched by their opponent just to show how much they are willing to sacrifice to be in the NHL and be on the squad and because “fighting is just part of the game”. I understand the role of fighting in the NHL and have cheered for fights, but never considered the perspective presented in this article.

        I certainly appreciate the concept of players sacrificing to make themselves better players on the ice and prove they should be at the NHL level, but thowing down with someone that will “clean your clock” doesn’t make you a better player it just shows you’re willing to sacrifice to stay with the team.

        It’s Jay’s decision, of course, so I can’t judge, but I just think its unfortunate that the culture is that players have to go to these lengths to demonstrate their worth for a NHL team when it has little to do with their abilities as a hockey player.

        • Most, good point on the difference of opinion, and nice job keeping an internet discussion civilized (you don’t see it often)
          I’m playing devil’s advocate here but when you say it’s sad that borderline NHL players have to sacrifice themselves, I have to ask, should they stop blocking shots, bodychecking, or going on road trips that take place on their wives/girlfriends birthdays?

          Many fans are guilty of forgetting that the players are people. But I think just as many others have to remember the reality.

          Top level professional hockey is a career that many people would love to pursue (it has more applicants than positions). Hockey is a fast physical game with a lucrative pay scale, sacrifice is the reality of winning, and winning is the objective of each team.

  8. Great insight/article, Justin. It sucks that Jay got hurt as a result of it, but you’re absolutely right, he had to drop the mitts in that situation. There’s always the risk of something like that happening, and unfortunately it did last night. Hopefully he’s back out there in no time.

  9. Great work on this one Justin – wonderful insight from someone who knows. I’m really glad that it appears that Jay is OK (and has a badge of honor on top of it. Bonus!).

    I had a flurry (pun intended) of emotions last night during the scrap, first , “Way to go Ash, kick this guy’s ass! Uh, [Asham's] kind of getting hit here…”, to “Oh snap, Beagle just got NAILED!”, to “Well [the gestures afterward] are very un-Asham-like (the guy never emotes, ever)”, to “Oh fuck, the kid is really hurt,” to “I’ll bet Ash feels bad now, about everything – hey, stick tap, way to go Ash.”. Was happy to hear that Asham called himself out right away and that those I follow in the hockey community were understanding and giving him a pass.

    It’s a tricky thing for a lot of 3rd and 4th line players in the NHL to play the game, stay in the game at the level they want, honor the hockey code – it goes on and on. It’s the heart I see in so many of these types of players that make me love them all the more.

  10. Thanks for the insight. After the fight, I thought back to 24/7, when Hendricks talked about his role on the Caps and that he had to fight. Matt Bradley was a third/fourth line player on the Caps who would fight. Often Bradley was bleeding at the end of the fight, but he kept doing it for the team. After Matt Bradley was not resigned by the Caps, I knew that someone else would now be expected to fight. I am glad that the reports out of Kettler yesterday were that Jay did not have a concussion. The thing about this fight that really annoys me about the Caps is that DJ King is on team but he rarely is put into a game, So other players like Hendricks, Bradley and now Beagle are expected to fight. You have to admire what Jay is willing to do to be on the team. Sometimes, I wish some of the other players would show as much heart and willingness to do whatever it takes for the team as guys like Jay, Matt Bradley, and Hendricks.

  11. Oh please. What Beagle SHOULD have done is skate away laughing. Because there’s more of a role for agitators than there is for fighters in the NHL these days. Take cleanish shots at bitchy little stars like Letang and Crosby, give them a little face wash now and then, and they get completely off their game. They spend the game crying to the refs, running around out of position trying to get even, etc.

    Bradley getting his ass kicked all over the ice trying to fight people he had no business fighting never once sparked the team to a victory and Beagle doesn’t need to take his place. If he plays a tight checking, hard hitting agitating style he’ll be a fixture for years.

  12. Finally a writer with proper hockey perspective. I’ve been reading your blogs on and off for the past cstoryouple years and you got good stuff. As a ex Jr. player and turned coach. Ive been on both sides of this (not fighting when I should have/ and fighting at the right moment to prove I was able to do the job) its a tough job and when your not that potent 1st or 2nd liner you do what you can to stay on a team. I played/made a team that consisted of Schremp, Bolland, Kostistyn as our 1st line sooo you could say my ice time was limited to say the least or in the press box getting the Hunter brothers beer ready. Fought 4 times in camp to make the team, didn’t fight once in the games and ice time I was giving and like that I was gone. This is at the Jr. level. (noted: arguably one the best jr organization of all time) You are a number and if you aren’t producing number offensively or blocking shots and taking punches /sticking up for yourself/teamates then you are sent down as quick as you made it. In my defense I still put up over a pt a game a year later in Jr.B with 120 pims as a Captain so I could play and throw’em but it was to late. If you aren’t willing to have “brass balls” at that moment, most guys will be in a similar situation as I had myself. I love story of guys like Beagle where he could have been a boarder line minor leaguer if he wanted to but has stuck it out and worked his bag off and fought guys like Asham to stay where he is now. Deserves all the credit in the world.

    Your style of hockey writing is encouraging to me as I listen and read all the “know it all” writers that played 2 years of AA hockey in Willowdale Minor Hockey when they were 12 and got a fucking Literature Degree and have never been in a fight for anything in there lives sitting behind a computer for the past 15 years reading on how to play the game, let alone a hockey fight to save your job and self pride to show you belong.

    I know this is an old piece from last year but I literally was reading all of your stuff and this was a related article on the bottom and thought I would give a small comment, which probably won’t even be read but I don’t give a shit.

    Your piece on the college plagiarism was well done to. Agreed on every sentence.

    Keep up the good writing. Good things will come

    All the best.

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