WASHINGTON — The images flickered across the scoreboard and Jay Beagle tried not to cry.
There he was scoring his first NHL goal. Here he is working a hockey clinic for kids. He holds his own toddler up as he learns to skate, wife, Ashley, smiling. His dad, Al, who owns an auto shop back in Calgary, claps and high-fives the other dads when his son scores on the annual fathers' trip in a game in Tampa Bay.
The moments pile on top of each other almost too fast to register. There is a signature shot block, Beagle limping to the bench in pain, but his job done. Beagle laughing as he skates to the penalty box after a good scrap in Hershey. He kisses the Calder Cup in one scene and the Stanley Cup in another. In the visitors’ locker room in Vancouver, an opponent now, not a teammate, Beagle’s voice quivers and his eyes well as he is presented with his championship ring.
“I truly do miss you guys. You are family,” Beagle told the Capitals then. “We went through something that we’ll never forget.”
And he was not forgotten, either. For 10 years Jay Beagle was part of the Capitals, part of the community. He was goofy, averse to social media and proud owner of a flip phone, a throwback to a earlier era that maybe never even existed. He was part of so many great teams and so many heartbreaking endings. It tested his optimistic nature.
Maybe Beagle didn’t realize it at the time. But if not, then the video tribute the Capitals played on the big scoreboard at Capital One Arena made the point. Beagle returned to the District on Tuesday with the Canucks after signing a four-year, $12 million contract as a free agent last summer. Not a single teammate begrudged him that. He’d earned it.
And here he was, a fourth-line center who began his career in the ECHL, undrafted, unwanted, raising his stick and tapping his chest during warm-ups to salute the Capitals fans who brought signs thanking him, cheering him as he left the ice.
Beagle actually thought he had a couple of good shifts to start the game. The Canucks started his line out of respect. Then came the first break in the action and the video. Beagle was doing just fine – until they showed scenes with Ashley and his sons, Brandt, 4, and Colter, 2. The Beagles welcomed a daughter, Millie, in October. Time flies.
“That kind of set me back for the rest of the first,” Beagle deadpanned. “Which they planned that. That’s on them. That was dirty of them. That was dirty. No, I regrouped.”
He actually did. Beagle had a solid scoring chance in a second period that Vancouver dominated – only to be robbed by goalie Braden Holtby. His good friend – they won a Calder Cup together in Hershey and the Stanley Cup just eight months ago - jabbed Beagle with a mock apology: “Oh, man, if I knew it was you I would have let it go in.”
“Talk is cheap, Holts,” Beagle said.
The humor was his way of dealing with the emotion of the night. Beagle was clearly overcome as he looked up at the scoreboard from in front of the Vancouver bench – even if he denied it afterward.
“No tears. There’s no tears. No tears here,” Beagle said. “I’m a man.”
Sure. When the video ended, Alex Ovechkin came over and gave Beagle a hug. Tom Wilson, his one-time linemate, skated over and shouted something that was lost in the roar of the crowd, which chanted his name: “Beagle! Beagle! Beagle!” If a lump doesn’t form in your throat after that, there’s something wrong with you.
Eventually the game resumed. Beagle was on the ice for T.J. Oshie’s goal in the first period, which was frustrating, but never did make good on their mutual pre-game promise to “run” each other. Holtby stoned him. And the Canucks fell short in a 3-2 loss.
Afterward, with time short as the Canucks tried to beat State of the Union traffic and get to the airport for their next game in Chicago, Beagle’s former teammates found him in the hallway between the home and visitor locker rooms.
Oshie and John Carlson were there and Tom Wilson came in late with a big bear hug. Chandler Stephenson was waiting for Beagle, too. Nicklas Backstrom stopped by and so did Evgeny Kuznetsov with a big smile. They all chatted for a few minutes, congratulated him on Millie, updated each other on their lives, shared a few laughs. Then it was time to go. The bus was waiting. Beagle’s reunion was a cherished memory now just like all the scenes that flashed on the scoreboard, just like the wild celebration in Las Vegas last June when the Caps won the Cup.
“I don’t even know what else to say,” Beagle said. “Thanks to all the fans. I really appreciate all their support – and their love.”
MORE CAPITALS NEWS: