Long before Jay Beagle emerged as an important component in the Washington Capitals unexpected, but impressive postseason run, he already had carved out a reputation as someone who played his best when the games matter the most, in the playoffs.
In 2003, he celebrated an Air Canada Cup championship with his midget-aged teammates on the Calgary Northstars. Four years later, he helped the Idaho Steelheads win the ECHL championship, the Kelly Cup. He also celebrated twice with the Hershey Bears as Calder Cup champions in 2009 and 2010.
It remains to be seen if the Capitals can overcome a 3-2 deficit in their best-of-seven second-round series against the New York Rangers, especially after the difficult overtime loss at Madison Square Garden in Game 5 on Monday.
The 26-year-old Beagle, however, certainly has solidified himself as a full-time NHLer, especially in the eyes of Capitals head coach Dale Hunter. Washington's bench boss has rewarded Beagle by giving him the important role as a shutdown guy, a penalty killer, a shot blocker and dependable face-off man.
"If you work hard you are going to get rewarded in Dale's system," Beagle said. "It's been great to get a chance to play a key role, killing penalties and taking draws at opportune times. That's what I have working for four years in the minors. I hope to build on it."
Beagle hasn't been on the ice for an even-strength goal in the series against the Rangers. How much Hunter trusts the underdog Calgary native has been reflected in his ice time. The third-line centre has received the sixth highest average ice time among Washington forwards.
Nicklas Backstrom 21:42
Brooks Laich 20:32
Alex Ovechkin 20:09
Marcus Johansson 20:01
Troy Brouwer 19:02
Jay Beagle 18:25
Beagle, who plays alongside with Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer, has become a popular player with the Capitals fan base. Not only because of his blue-collar work ethic, but because he has been writing a popular playoff diary for the Washington Post, in which he has provided details on the intense cribbage games with his partner Karl Alzner versus Mathieu Perreault and John Carlson.
Beagle never was drafted and didn't believe one day playing in the NHL was a reality. He went to the University of Alaska-Anchorage on a hockey scholarship, but struggled with his marks and the heavy travel schedule.
So he left after his second year there to take up coach Derek Laxdal, now with the Edmonton Oil Kings, on an offer to finish out the 2006-07 season with the Steelheads. Capitals scout Steve Richmond took notice and invited Beagle to the NHL team's summertime development camp. From his play at the camp, the Capitals signed Beagle to an AHL contract.
As a way of overcoming his lack of skill, Beagle out worked opponents in games and teammates in practice. Capitals veteran Brooks Laich certainly noticed, and upon exit interviews last season, he opined to Washington management that Beagle needed more of a regular role with the team after he didn't play a second in the Capitals playoff run last spring.
That looked to be a case out of training camp, but then Beagle suffered another setback last fall, when on Oct. 13 he suffered a concussion when Pittsburgh Penguins forward Arron Asham knocked him out with a couple right hands in a fight.
That was when Asham did his infamous good night action that resulted in an apology from Asham afterwards. Beagle didn't return until after a 31-game absence, and he had to start all over again to win over a new coach.
"Going through a concussion was something I wouldn't wish upon my enemies," Beagle said. "The three months I needed to recover was a difficult and scary time."
But the times are good again for Beagle. After all, this is the time of the year. He just needed an opportunity in the NHL.
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