Jay Beagle’s work is never done.
The Washington Capitals forward has the reputation of one who works just about as hard as any player on the team. His natural talent doesn’t add up to that of stars such as left wing Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom, but Beagle has his niche on the fourth line carved out through tireless efforts on and off the ice year-round.
Beagle got used to life on the bubble between the NHL and the minors, but then came another summer of work — another summer in “the vault” — to change the 25-year-old’s fate. Now, he’s on the Capitals’ roster without any debate, a result of his work ethic that spans the hockey season and beyond.
“Jay’s making it tough to say, ‘You know what — either you’re going down or you’re sitting in the stands’ because he goes out there and he brings energy to every shift, and no matter whether he makes a mistake or not, you know he’s giving it everything he’s got every time,” Bruce Boudreau said. “Coaches love that in a guy.”
Beagle undoubtedly is a coach’s player, someone who can be counted on to never dog it in games or practice — despite the pun on his last name. That attitude to constantly improve his game led Beagle four years ago to trainer Steve Saville of Absolute Training Potential in Calgary, Alberta. Each summer since, Beagle has worked with Saville on strength-and-conditioning training as well as nutrition.
“Some of the stuff we do I think is stuff I don’t think anyone else is doing,” Beagle said. “It’s stuff that he’s worked on and worked with for five, six years, and he’s been trying to perfect certain exercises, certain movements.”
This past summer, defenseman Karl Alzner joined Beagle working with Saville — the first extensive offseason of workouts for both, given long Calder Cup runs in previous years. Both refer to the place they trained as “the vault” — to keep workouts secret.
What’s no secret is how much stronger and quicker Beagle looks this camp than even last year, and how working with Saville pushed him into a spot where he wasn’t even in danger of being cut this week.
Beagle added 15 pounds, but much of it was “good” weight and muscle that his skating hasn’t suffered.
“He likes to play a pretty fast game, and he likes to crash and bang and he’s very high energy. He’s also pretty strong for the size he is,” Saville said. “If we could keep him fast and make him a little more powerful and give him muscle that he can use, not just muscle for the sake of muscle, it can help him out a lot.”
Much of that extra weight came not just from working out but concentrating on nutrition. And while Saville said Alzner’s nutrition was changed the most to fix some hormonal issues and switch up the supplements he takes, Beagle honed in on what works best for him to ingest.
“Basically we did a lot of tests of what makes your body feel good. When you eat this certain thing, how do you feel after? It’s a pretty simple thing, but not many people do it,” Beagle said. “I know I never did. I would eat and I would just try and eat as much as I could and sometimes I felt awful and some days I felt great. We kind of just broke down what kind of foods we digest well and what kind of proteins are good.”
Beagle and Saville figured a lot of protein in the morning benefited him, and the Caps forward still got to eat the steak he loves.
Of course, everything for Beagle and Alzner was centered on making them better and more fit hockey players, which meant pushing themselves to the limit in workouts, too. The goal, Saville said, was to get to a place where hard workouts were the norm and for the players to adjust and recover better from the strain of activity.
Now, Beagle doesn’t even remember how he used to recover from workouts and is more prepared than ever for the grind of back-to-back games and other problems during the season.
“We’ve got it pretty dialed in,” he said, “with nutrition and sleep and recovery and pushing yourself to that limit where you don’t like to be and then coming back the next day and doing it all over again.”
Each day this summer presented a chance for Saville to tweak aspects of training based on how Beagle and Alzner responded. But recovery was such a centerpiece, from a nutritional standpoint and more, because Beagle is known to push himself to the extreme.
“Definitely a sight to see watching him train. He’s worked so hard,” Alzner said. “There’s times where he finishes — let’s say we’re rowing on the row machine and he finishes 1,000 meters and he gets up off the rower just dead tired, opens the door and he’ll start gagging outside because he’s going so hard.”
Beagle also spent the summer doing power skating and shooting a lot of pucks because, as he said, he wants to score, too. But he expressed appreciation to Saville for enabling him to get the “full maximum potential” out of offseason training.
And it paid off when Boudreau announced Tuesday that the guys left made the team to start the season. Beagle called it a great feeling but noted it was just the start — he and Saville will communicate during the season as in years past as he keeps working on his conditioning and his game, this time with Caps coaches such as Mark Nemish.
But he credited working with Saville for getting over the hump and becoming a full-time NHL player.
“I know all I have to do is show up and work hard, and he’s got the rest figured out,” Beagle said. “It’s a good feeling, and working out with Steve has made me the player that I am today.”
And a player his teammates are happy to see is around for the long haul.
“It’s outstanding. He’s a tremendous guy on and off the ice, he works hard,” linemate Matt Hendricks said. “He’s a genuinely good kid, and he deserves it. He’s put in all the work and all the effort and extra hours to get where he’s gotten.”