Crossing the thin line: the Asham-Beagle fight

October 14, 2011

Last night’s game between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins was a lot of things.

It was exciting, with great skill and grit and a tremendous goaltending performance by the Caps’ Tomas Vokoun. Washington’s 3-2 overtime win continued the Caps winning streak in Pittsburgh in the regular season. It’s been nearly half a decade since the Caps lost a regular season game in Steeltown, a streak that has covered three different buildings (Civic Arena, Heinz Field and Consol Energy Center).

But all anyone will talk about is The Fight.

Now, I’m no bleeding heart when it comes to fighting. I like fighting in hockey. Really I do. I don’t blame fighting for Washington’s Jay Beagle getting knocked out by Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham.

No, the reason Beagle has a tooth knocked out – at best – or a serious concussion – at worst – is a certain part of the hockey culture that I don’t like.

Let’s break down the sequence here: first, Beagle and Pittsburgh’s star defenceman Kris Letang collide along the boards. Letang and Beagle push and shove. Beagle facewashes Letang and knocks Letang’s helmet off. Beagle gets a penalty and the Penguins will get a power play as soon as the Capitals touch the puck.

Then Asham decides that Beagle roughed up Letang too much and asks Beagle to dance. Asham is a legit tough guy with lots of fights under his belt. Beagle is a marginal NHL player trying to stick with the Capitals after being shuffled back-and-forth from minor league Hershey the past three years. Beagle has never fought in the NHL.

The fight goes as you would expect: Asham lets Beagle have a couple, then clocks him right in the jaw with a knockout shot. Beagle is left pulling out his teeth while Asham showboats to the crowd.

Here’s what I don’t like:

• That Asham challenged a guy who is not a fighter for what was a nothing hit on Letang. Look, I get it if you challenge a guy after a cheap shot on one of your stars. If Beagle had elbowed Letang in the head, kneed him or run him from behind, he should have to answer for it. But Beagle didn’t give Letang much more than a face noogie. Listen to this Barry Melrose analysis of the fight. I’ll wait….Now is that not the dumbest load of crap you’ve ever heard? Sending a message? How? By challenging a fourth line guy who’s never fought before? By fighting in the third period of a close game? How is Beagle sending a message here? By letting Asham rearrange his face? If every guy “sent a message” after a facewash, believe me, there would hardly be any hockey played. There would be 48 minutes of fights because anytime the action moves to the front of the net, there’s always a facewash! If there’s one thing I hate in hockey, it’s when guys get challenged to fight after clean hits or innocuous plays like this one.

• That Beagle had no choice but to dance with Asham. If he doesn’t dance, he gets called a pansy or a wimp. Don Cherry will be on CBC Saturday night calling him a chicken. It’ll be all over YouTube. He’ll never live it down in any locker room he goes into, whether with Washington, Hershey or some other club. If he does dance, well, you saw what happened.

• That Beagle felt like he had to fight to keep his place on the Caps’ roster. Steve Whyno of the Washington Times tweeted that Beagle had told him he was going to fight some this year. Clearly, Beagle saw how Matt Hendricks and, before him, Matt Bradley, had carved out a role for themselves in the NHL by fighting anytime, anywhere and with anybody. Like Beagle, Hendricks and Bradley were marginal NHL players who desperately wanted to stick with the big club and felt that fighting was a way they would get noticed. Hendricks admitted as much on last year’s “Capitals-Penguins 24/7” series. Sure, it worked for Hendricks and Bradley, but how many more guys do we need getting their brains scrambled like Beagle did last night? Bradley, now with the Florida Panthers, often left fights bleeding like a stuck pig. Hendricks’ eye looked like something out of a horror movie midway through last year. Hell, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau had to tell Hendricks he didn’t need to fight so much after seeing the damage Hendy was doing to himself. There's a fine line between courage and stupidity.

• Asham’s celebration after knocking Beagle out. He knew he knocked the kid out and yet, he still pulled the wrestling crap out of the bag. Asham should know as well as anybody the effect a concussion can have. His captain, Sidney Crosby, hasn’t played in 10 months recovering from one. In football and hockey in particular, concussions have been a hot-button issue because of the damage traumatic brain injuries can cause. No one wants another Andre Waters, Dave Duerson or Chris Benoit happening. Knowing that Beagle was out, and could, conceivably, have a concussion, why celebrate? Just go to the penalty box and leave the wrestling celebrations to CM Punk. **UPDATE** Asham apparently apologized for his celebration.

Like I said, I have no problem with fighting in hockey. But there’s a time and a place and this wasn’t it. Hopefully, Beagle does not have a serious injury and hopefully, this is the end of his fighting career. Life’s too short, kid.

  • Ryan Mavity has been a reporter with the Cape Gazette since February 2007. He covers the city of Rehoboth Beach, Baltimore Ravens football and Delaware State University football. He lives in Georgetown with his wife, Rachel and their son, Alex.

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