Middle Man

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

Five summers ago, Jay Beagle received an invitation to the Washington Capitals’ summer development camp in Arlington. Having left the University of Alaska-Anchorage after his sophomore campaign, Beagle was fresh from his first brief taste of pro hockey, a 10-game stretch drive and subsequent playoff run with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. That playoff run, by the way, culminated in a Kelly Cup championship. With Idaho that spring, Beagle had caught the eye of Caps director of player development Steve Richmond. Richmond extended the invitation to summer camp, and Beagle accepted. His performance at camp that spring led to an AHL contract with Hershey for the 2007-08 season. Beagle also made the most of that first full pro season with the Bears, totaling 19 goals and 37 points in 64 games with Hershey. Before the season was concluded, he had signed his first NHL deal with Washington. Late in the following season, Beagle made his NHL debut. He got into three games with the Caps, impressing enough that he was recalled to play in the second round of the playoffs against Pittsburgh in that spring of 2009. Beagle was a key cog on the Hershey Calder Cup champion teams in 2009 and 2010. He got into seven more NHL games in 2009-10, scoring his first goal in the league against Ottawa. Last season, his NHL exposure increased to 31 games. Heading into training camp in the fall of 2011, Beagle was looking to nail down an opening night roster spot for the first time in his NHL career. Mission accomplished. Beagle made the club and was in the lineup on opening night when Washington defeated the Carolina Hurricanes. But he suffered a concussion in a fight with Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham in the third game of the season. Beagle spent the next two months trying to get his head together to the point where he could resume his hockey career. By the time he did return in late December, Dale Hunter had replaced Bruce Boudreau behind the Washington bench. A month or so after he came back into the lineup, Hunter began to entrust Beagle with more ice time and some checking responsibilities. The 26-year-old Calgary native embraced his new role with fervor. “When a coach gives you an opportunity to play a pivotal role on the team and to get more ice time,” says Beagle, “you don’t want to let that coach down. You also want to take advantage of the opportunity and make the most of it, and we were also in a playoff race. It was for the team as much as anything; it was just trying to win for the team and to get into the playoffs. It feels good accomplishing that.” Beagle played in 41 games for the Caps this season, doubling his previous career total. He has seven goals and 10 points in those 82 career contests in the league, but the offense is gravy. Beagle’s role is to use his size, strength and speed to keep the opposition’s top lines at bay. “It’s more of a defensive mindset,” he says of his job description, “but it’s also a learning experience. I’ve played against top lines down in the minors and in junior and in college. It’s always been my role. “In the NHL, it’s a little bit different. I was always able to be more offensive and the defense would just come because it came natural to me. But this year I had to switch my focus more to the defensive zone and to my positioning in the neutral zone and the offensive zone, and let my wingers go in and work the corners and me kind of sit back to make sure I’m that first guy in the [defensive] zone. “Not every time, but it’s in your head that that’s my responsibility. In previous years, I’ve been able to work the corners and be able to get back and still be the first guy. Obviously with the speed of the game [in the NHL], you have to switch your mindset. It was definitely a learning experience when I first got into the role, and I enjoyed it a lot. I love playing that role.” For most of his prior trials with Washington, Beagle found himself on the fourth line playing six or eight minutes a night, and frequently playing right wing even though center is his natural position. Having been given the opportunity to return to his pivot position, Beagle has flourished and has proven himself capable of playing twice as many minutes as he’d played for Washington in the days when Boudreau was behind the bench. Beagle has worked hard to improve his face-off acumen, to the point where he enters the playoffs with a 57.7% circle success rate, second best on the team. “It’s huge,” says Beagle of face-offs. “It’s something that I’ve had to really work on this year with [assistant coaches Dean Evason and Blaine Forsythe], going over video and just working on it in practice and stuff. “Playing wing on and off the last two or three years down in Hershey and then coming up here I would always play wing. So then they were kind of like, ‘Well, maybe he’s going to be a winger up there,’ so in Hershey [Bears head coach] Mark French would put me on wing. So I hadn’t taken that many draws in the last two years. It was something that comes natural, but I had to work on it and I’m still working on it to try and get better every day at it.” Although he can play on the wing, he prefers to play center. “I’ve always been defensive-minded and playing center is a defensive role and I get to be down low and working down low with the defensemen,” says Beagle. “It’s just the position that I love to [play] and I’m having a lot of fun doing it.” Although it’s been three years since he got that first brief taste of NHL playoff experience, Beagle believes getting his feet wet in the Stanley Cup playoffs – and playing for three championship teams during his minor league career – are assets to his résumé. “It helps,” he says, of having prior NHL playoff experience. ”It helps not having it be your first playoff game. Playing that Pittsburgh series, that was a huge series. Just getting in there and getting my feet wet was such a crazy experience. It is something that I will never forget. I think it is going to help going into this playoff series, just with the jitters and knowing what to expect and knowing the level that it gets amped up to.” Despite missing half the 2011-12 season, Beagle has gone from being a fringe player to being a key player in the Washington lineup. In the opening round playoff series against the Boston Bruins, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound center will be counted on to help neutralize Boston’s size, strength and physicality. “Obviously winning the Cup two years in a row down in Hershey was a huge booster for your playoff experience and your playoff success. It helps you mentally and it helps you with confidence. I try to take pride in being a playoff player. I want to be big when the games are big and come through for the team and help them win. I’m definitely going to take that experience of winning two championships and apply it to these playoffs.”

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Random Notes

January 14, 2013

Some random notes heading into Game 1 of tonight's Caps-Bruins Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series: Caps coach Dale Hunter and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin are tied for second all-time on the franchise’s all-time playoff goals list. Hunter needed 100 games to score his; Ovechkin’s 25 goals were

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