It was 6 p.m. at The Gardens Ice House in Laurel when a tall man dressed in red emerged from a dressing room and stepped onto the ice with dozens of eager youth hockey players, giving them high fives and then skating with them for the next hour and a half. Parents crowded around the glass to take photos of Washington Capitals forward Jay Beagle, who was volunteering his time on a freezing February evening, with students so young that some couldn’t even tie their skates themselves.
“They love to play hockey,” Beagle said, after donating an extra half hour than he was asked. “You just tell them to keep working hard and keep working on their skills, and it’s a lot of fun being out there.”
Fans of Beagle know only a few things about him outside of his defensive-minded approach to hockey, and the fact that he’s having a career season offensively. For years, coaches have publicly praised him for his work ethic, and teammates have crowned him the “Honest Abe” multiple times for on-ice accomplishments and sacrifices. Other things fans may know? He’s not into technology. He used to race dirt bikes. He’s got a secret recipe for a shake he drinks after strenuous workouts. And last year, Inova Blood Services made a Beagle bobblehead.
Teaching children hockey is something Beagle enjoys, and he says his mother believes he’s got a knack for interacting with kids. He even started a ball hockey camp two years ago back home in Calgary, and plans on doing it again this year. “It’s a big group, a big melee, and we have a lot of fun,” he said, adding that some of the campers don’t even play ice hockey.
Beagle and his wife, Ashley, have a son of their own, Brandt, who is now 10 months old. “I’m teaching him to stick handle. I’ll say ‘stick handle stick handle stick handle’ – I’ll say it three times – and he’ll come crawling over to me and grab the stick that’s in my hands and try and stick handle a ball or a puck or whatever is in front of him.”
While Brandt hasn’t yet skated, Beagle has ordered a pair and hopes to get him out on the ice soon. Another favorite activity with his son is taking him outdoors as often as possible, even on long hikes.
“I’m a big outdoors guy. I love to hunt. I grew up hunting in Alberta with my whole family. It’s a family experience — a bonding experience. I’ve been able to go out hunting here twice, and both times I was fortunate enough to get something.”
Because of his hockey schedule, Beagle doesn’t get to do as much hunting as he’d like, but traveled to Orange, Va., during the NHL lockout with some buddies to hunt for the first time in eight years. Back in Canada, Beagle has hunted elk, moose, whitetail deer and mule deer, using either bows or rifles.
“Don’t shoot Bambi,” a text message read before one of his more recent trips. It came from teammate Jason Chimera.
“It’s something I’m passionate about because I grew up doing it with my dad ever since I was two years old. I can remember going out when I was four years old. Ever since then I just loved being in the woods. It’s not so much shooting anything, it’s just being out in the woods, so I’ll try to do that with my son now. Every chance I get, I try to take him, even if it’s just a park in the woods, we just sit in the woods and play.”
Most of Beagle’s time, however, is devoted to hockey, even during the offseason. With nine goals and eight assists on the year, Beagle has shattered his season highs in scoring. This comes as a bonus for the Caps, as they still rely heavily on him for penalty killing duties and defensive situations.
Beagle credits offseason shooting drills for boosting his confidence with the puck, which he says has helped him score more goals. Over the summer, he didn’t cut back on his regular vigorous workouts, but added another. Rain or shine, he’d shoot 200 pucks a day in rink in his backyard, the first time he devoted so much time to such a drill.
“It gives you the confidence in your shot. It’s just another thing you try to get an edge over your opponents.”
Fans continued to approach Beagle on his way out of the rink. He signed every autograph request and posed for every photo. One child, who had his cast signed, showed it off to his mother. The next day, he was a healthy scratch for the first time all season, in a game against Pittsburgh.
Coach Barry Trotz still praised No. 83. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Beags and the way he’s played this year. He’s been one of the steady guys, and I know when he gets back in, he’s going to be awesome.”