By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
Almost every one of his teammates has been playing pro hockey longer than Idaho Steelheads rookie Jay Beagle.
But when the Steelheads begin the ECHL National Conference Finals on Monday, he will be the Idaho player with the most experience at the Alaska Aces’ Sullivan Arena.
That’s because Beagle played two seasons at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, and his home games in college were played in the same arena where he will be playing as a pro in the playoffs.
But that doesn’t mean there will be any split allegiances for the 6-foot-3, 210-pound center.
“No way,” Beagle said. “I played for the university up there, and the Aces are a totally different organization.”
Beagle said he didn’t even become especially familiar with Anchorage’s ECHL team while playing in college.
“We played on the road when they were playing at home,” Beagle said. “So I didn’t see them too much. I’ve probably only seen one or two Aces games up there.”
Beagle made a quick impression on Steelheads fans by scoring 10 points in their final eight regular-season games. His point production, however, has fallen in the playoffs (one point in 12 games).
“I think he is a little tired sometimes,” Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal said. “Sometimes I look for a little too much out of him.”
But the 21-year-old thinks he’s getting his second wind.
“The more I play (with Idaho), the more comfortable I get,” Beagle said. “My body is getting used to it. When I first came up, I was playing a lot more and it was a little stressful on the body. But now, the body’s getting used to it, and I feel better than I have all year.”
The rink that Beagle skated on in college is the biggest of any National Conference team in the ECHL. But Beagle said the Olympic-sized rink, which is 15 feet wider than a standard-sized rink like the one at Qwest Arena, shouldn’t be a problem for the Steelheads.
“We have a fast team,” he said. “If anything, it’s going to benefit us. There’s a lot of room out there, and we’ve got a lot of guys with speed and skill.”
Steelheads veteran Scott Burt agreed.
“You have to basically have a skating team to be able to play up there,” Burt said. “If you have a team based on big, slow (defensemen), you ain’t going to fare too well up in Alaska. They’ll pick away at you and eat you away.”
Idaho went 1-2 against the Aces in Alaska during the regular season and 2-1 at Qwest Arena. But Laxdal is quick to point out that the playoffs are a whole new season, and that both teams’ lineups will be different. For example, Idaho forward Lance Galbraith, who leads all scorers in the playoffs with 16 points, did not play in any of the regular-season games against Alaska.
Beagle played in the final two regular-season games against Alaska and notched one assist.
Now it’s time to see what kind of impact Beagle can have for Idaho in the playoffs — and maybe beyond.
“He’s a guy we’re targeting for next year,” Laxdal said. “He’s going to be a solid player for us the rest of the way and next year.”