- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jay Beagle was just itching to get back onto the ice. The Washington Capitals’ forward hasn’t played in a game since Oct. 13 when he suffered a concussion in a fight with Arron Asham, and it had been three weeks since he last skated.

Then came Friday night and Saturday morning — the anticipation and finally the reward.

“I was at that point again where I got to skate today, and I was so excited I couldn’t even sleep last night,” a smiling Beagle said.

Beagle’s difficult, sometimes hazy road back to normal is far from over. But amid a complicated process full of protocol and small progress, Saturday’s 15-minute twirl as his teammates were wrapping up the morning skate was certainly a milestone moment.

Teammates were more than thrilled to see Beagle in a gray jersey skating around for the first time in a while. They cheered as soon as he stepped onto the ice.

“You heard the reaction. Everybody’s fired up for him. It’s just nice to see him on the ice,” said defenseman Karl Alzner, one of Beagle’s closest friends on the team. “He’s one of those guys that brings a lot of energy to the ice, whether it’s practices or games. Whenever we get to have him out there, we’re all pretty happy.”

Beagle joked: “I was pretty nervous I’d toe-pick and fall right away,” as he received such a warm welcome back.

But teammates also understand the difficulty of a concussion, especially those who have suffered one or more before, like Jeff Halpern.

“A lot of injuries you can kind of power your way through or work hard to get through. This is one of those ones where especially for a guy like Beags you can’t really work hard to beat it,” said Halpern, whose worst concussion lasted around seven days. “It’s frustrating because you have no control over it.”

Jeff Schultz talked about it as “baby steps,” and that’s how Beagle is approaching it. Things looked good three weeks ago when he was on the ice for a few days and chatting optimistically about a return.

But something went wrong.

“I felt like three weeks ago I was trying to push it a little bit and tell myself that it was feeling good,” Beagle admitted. “And I thought it felt good, compared to how I felt two weeks before that. I felt great, and then once you get off the ice and I had that setback where the head was back to not feeling 100 percent, I had to rest a bit.”

Beagle bided his time, using an exercise bike recently to build his heart rate back up. He wore a heart monitor while skating Saturday to test exertion level and reported feeling great.

“Now I feel 100 percent better from where I was three weeks ago,” he said. “I’m just taking it day-by-day and hopefully I got no setbacks.”

Coach Dale Hunter hasn’t been around Beagle long but said the 26-year-old forward has been sitting in on meetings as much as possible to stay in tune with the team. Saturday, he didn’t take part in the morning skate, but his mere presence on the ice was a good sin.

“When you get back on the ice, you get upbeat again, because you’re doing what you like to do,” Hunter said.

Schultz said everyone has seen the “worst-case scenario” of what can happen with a concussion. Sidney Crosby’s 10-plus-month absence provided a cautionary tale. St. Louis Blues forward David Perron was set to return Saturday night from the same thing after missing 97 games.

Beagle’s return is not imminent and he’s progressing by the day, but he still has sights set on playing this season.

“Yeah. Of course. I want to play,” Beagle said. “When it gets past that certain point where it wasn’t so good three weeks ago, hopefully my head feels great and I have no symptoms and I can get back to playing.”

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