PITTSBURGH — Arron Asham is sorry for showboating after felling mismatched Washington Capital Jay Beagle.
But the Pittsburgh tough guy isn’t apologizing for the Thursday night punch-up that left a dazed Beagle sprawled on the ice with blood pouring from his mouth.
“I woke up this morning feeling pretty stupid from seeing it, but what can you do? Guys make mistakes,” Asham said following the Penguins’ off-day practice Friday.
“But I’m just going in and doing my job. The kid challenged me, what am I going to do? We were down a goal. I want to fight, try to get my team going. It was the stuff afterward that was uncalled for.”
Asham also lashed out at Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin for suggesting that the Penguins forward knew better than to fight such an inexperienced player as Beagle.
“We just put him on the ice,” Ovechkin said. “He’s not a fighter. It’s not his job to fight. I don’t know, it’s kind of disrespectful.
That angered Asham.
“I don’t know why Ovie’s talking about disrespect, a guy who throws his stick down and warms his hands up over it,” Asham said, referring to one of Ovechkin’s goal celebrations. “He’s just being a hypocrite himself.”
Asham, a 13-season NHL veteran with a reputation for being tough and physical but not dirty, was most upset that he embarrassed the Penguins by taunting the downed Beagle as he skated off the ice. Asham waved his hands as if he were a boxing referee signalling a fighter was counted out, then rested his head on his cupped hands to suggest Beagle was going to sleep.
While even some of the Capitals defended Asham for fighting, the gestures were criticized by those associated with both teams — and, later, by Asham himself.
The Asham-Beagle fight — though it was only Asham that did any hard punching — caused a major buzz around the NHL. The league is attempting to reduce concussions by eliminating head shots, yet still permits fights that can cause those very injuries.
Beagle still had an ice pack on his face a half-hour after the Capitals’ 3-2 overtime victory ended, but apparently wasn’t badly injured. About that time, Asham was sending word to Beagle through Washington forward Mike Knuble, who once played with Asham in Philadelphia, that he was sorry for the way he reacted.
“I talked to Mike Knuble last night and made sure the kid was all right and told him I apologized for the stupid antics I did afterward,” Asham said. “He knows the kind of guy I am.”
Knuble, while displeased at watching a teammate get pummelled in a fight, defended Asham, calling him an “honest” player. And Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau suggested it was the six-foot-one, 208-pound Beagle who made a mistake by getting into a fight with a tested and proven fighter like the 5-11, 205-pound Asham.
Asham has played in 696 NHL games, while Beagle has appeared in 43.
“Arron was just doing his job,” Knuble said. “I’ve played with Arron, he’s an honest player, he’s tremendous at what he does and he’s doing what he had to do. Jay did what he felt what he had to do. It’s a little bit more experience against someone who doesn’t have a lot and that’s the result.”
Beagle didn’t practise Friday, but Boudreau said he wasn’t exhibiting any signs of a concussion. Asham said he hadn’t heard about any possible action by the NHL.
The fight started after Beagle, with his team leading 2-1, confronted Penguins defenceman Kris Letang at 5:54 of the third period, shoving Letang’s helmet off his head. Asham came to Letang’s defence.
“I was kind of telling him to settle down and stop running around or he was going to have to fight. He wanted to fight and it’s unfortunate he got hurt,” Asham said. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone out there. I was revved up, I was pumped up, and it was stupid on my part to be doing that. I was trying to get my team going, get the crowd going and what do you do? It was no class on my part and I take responsibility for what I did.”
Partly because of Asham’s gesturing, some in the sellout crowd of 18,512 were cheering even after Beagle lay bloodied and beaten.
“Arron is dead on when he said the emotions got the best of him. He was certainly jacked up for the situation and the fight,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “The gestures, he’s right. They were overboard, excessive and classless. I think immediately he felt remorse and regret.”
The Eastern Conference powers don’t play again until Dec. 1 in Washington. The teams also meet Jan. 11 on the Capitals’ ice and Jan. 22 at Consol Energy Center.
Asham’s actions inflamed what already is one of the NHL’s best rivalries.
Said Asham: “The rivalry’s back, and I’m sure the next game is going to be a lot of fireworks, a fun game.”
Asham emphasized he wasn’t trying to cause a distraction to a talented Penguins team that’s off to a 3-0-2 start, but was simply doing what’s expected of a player like himself.
“The last thing I want is my face plastered all over the news, saying I’m a big bad guy, when it (fighting) is a part of the game,” Asham said. “If I want to stay in the league, I’ve got to do certain things. … It’s unfortunate it ended the way it did. Obviously, you don’t want to hurt anyone. But can only say you’re sorry so many times.”