Jay Beagle’s Unlikely Path to the Pros

Jay Beagle

Washington Capitals Legend, Jay Beagle.  Photo by Michael Miller

Some things end before they really get started.

Jay Beagle’s professional hockey career seemed like it was becoming one of those things.  At 18 years old, a young Jay Beagle was attempting to launch his hockey career, playing for his hometown team, the Calgary Hitmen of Canada’s Western Hockey League.  Before tryout were over, however, he was cut from the team.  He told Ben Raby of WTOP; “I’ll never forget walking out of the room after being cut.  My grandpa and dad (were) standing there and they were trying to pick me up after being cut from a dream of playing for the Hitmen.  That was a big moment in my life and my career.  They stood by my side, they encouraged me and that kept me motivated.”

To keep his career from ending before it began, Beagle played for a lower-level team, the Calgary Royals.  From there, he went on to play for two years at the University of Alaska – Ancourage.  Finding the balance between school and hockey was a challenge and his grades began slipping.  At age 21, he chose to leave college behind and give professional hockey another try.  In 2007, he joined up with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL.  He only lasted there for one season.

In that one season, Beagle was one of the hardest working players.  As is often the case, however, the hard work and dedication went completely unnoticed.  At least, it went almost completely unnoticed.  Beagle caught the eye of one scout; Steve Richmond of the Washington Capitals.  He was impressed by Beagle’s size, his skating ability, his fearlessness, and his heart.  Wherever Beagle skated, he was a force.  He called Beagle’s former coaches.  Richmond told Raby; that “the first thing each coach said was, ‘Hardest working player on the team.’ And if you have the hardest working player on the team and he’s got some talent, which Jay had, you knew he had a good chance to play.”  Richmond was sold.

The problem was, Beagle was expensive.

Richmond explains; “I tried to book a last-minute flight and it was really expensive.”  He ran it by Brian MacLellan, the Capitals’ Director of Player Personnel; “there’s this kid from Alaska.  It will cost a fortune to see him and I can only see him one game. Should I go?”  MacLellan’s answer?  “Well, if you like him, spend the money.”

Richmond spent the money and flew to Vegas, where the Beagle’s Idaho Steelheads were playing.  As he watched Beagle play, he knew right away that the investment would pay off.  Over a decade later, Richmond would say; “Looking back, it’s the best money the Capitals probably ever spent.”

Richmond treated Beagle to a luxurious feast; potato skins and mozzarella sticks at a Las Vegas TGIFridays.  At the end of the conversation there was no contract offer made, just an invitation to the Washington Capitals summer camp.

Beagle’s arrival in Northern Virginia wouldn’t make the headlines.  In fact, it wasn’t really viewed as the beginning of a professional career.  He was there to simply fill up a roster which consisted of more highly regarded prospects.  Beagle remembered the advice of his father and his grandfather.  If he wanted to make it, he would have to keep chugging away.  He would later confess; “I’ve never worked so hard in my life (as) that summer.  I went straight into training. I came into that development camp like it was a main camp. I came into camp in great shape and I was going to give it everything I had.”

The road to an NHL roster spot is a long and tedious one.  He had already played Junior Hockey, College Hockey, and Professional Hockey prior to his appearance in Capitals Camp.  After camp, the Capitals were so impressed that they finally signed him to his first NHL contract; only he wouldn’t be playing for the Capitals.  Instead, he would be off to the next stop of his journey; Hershey, Pennsylvania.

At Hershey, Beagle would play for the Hershey Bears of the AHL.  He would play parts of 4 seasons there, winning back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010.  In the midst of those seasons, he received occasional call-ups to the Capitals.  When the 2011-2012 season began, Beagle had earned his way onto the Capitals roster.  He never looked back.

In some ways, Beagle went on to have an amazing career.  He would play 10 total seasons with the Capitals, including being a part of the 2018 teams that won the Stanley Cup.  He was often called a “glue-guy” for the Capitals – the kind of guy who helps everything stick together.  He put in the hard work.  He did the little things that needed to be done.  He was a highly respected by his teammates and a fan favorite.

What Beagle wasn’t was an All-Star.  While even casual hockey fans know the names Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, not all know the name “Jay Beagle.”  He was usually a fourth-liner and part of the penalty kill line.  Perhaps his highest career honor was being named the 24th best defensive forward in the NHL at the conclusion of the 2017 season.

After winning the Stanley Cup, Beagle’s contract with the Capitals reached its conclusion.  He would go on to play for the Vancouver Canucks.  Usually, when a fourth line forward leaves for another team, there’s no more fanfare than when a no-named, unheralded prospect receives an invitation to Rookie Camp.  For Beagle, it was different.

On February 5, 2019, the Canucks traveled to Washington to face the Capitals.  Fans lined the ice with banners welcoming him home.  Players came early to catch up with their old friend.  A video tribute recounting his time with the Capitals played during a stoppage in the action during the 1st quarter.

Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post wrote; It’s rare for bottom-six forwards to become franchise fixtures, but Beagle endeared himself to the Capitals and their fan base with his tireless work ethic that set an example for others in the locker room.”

Beagle’s career is an inspiring tale, which encourages us all to work hard and never give up.  Steve Richmond said “It’s a great story; but he wrote it. We were just taking notes. He was a great find for us and he’s a great inspiration for anybody who plays hockey, just what hard work will do for you.  You smile every time you see him step up on the ice — 500-plus times in the NHL.  I don’t know if there are too many undrafted free agents that play that many games with one team, really. None that came out on a tryout, that’s for sure. For a kid coming out on a tryout when nobody on the staff knows him, except me at the time, to end up where he is right now, good for him… Every time I see him play, I smile. My wife does too because she knows the story. She’s a big Jay Beagle fan. But who isn’t a Jay Beagle fan?!”

Beagle knows, though, that he wasn’t the one to write his story.  He gives all the credit to God.  “I believe in God and I believe that God has definitely put me in places in for reason.  Looking back, it’s just undeniable.” 

One of Beagle’s favorite Bible verses is Psalm 55:22; Give your burdens to the Lord, and He will take care of you.  He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.

He explained to Hockey Ministries International; “God has a plan for you life, and when you’re living in His will you can’t lose.  Yes, pursue your dreams, but make sure you pursue God first and let His will be done in your life.  If you do your best to glorify God in everything you do, that’s what important… It’s hard to change your ways.  It’s impossible without the grace of God – but when you put your faith in Him, nothing is impossible.”

Beagle’s story shows us that God can do what seems impossible in our lives.  But what’s most important is that we follow the example that Beagle set; work hard, live a life that reflects the love of Christ, and strive to serve Him each day.  Leave the rest up to Him!

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