2021 mwc brandon hagel

Getting over the hump

A longshot to play internationally when the season began, Brandon Hagel made huge strides with the Chicago Blackhawks to earn his first opportunity in a Team Canada sweater

Jamie Umbach
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June 1, 2021
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Brandon Hagel hasn’t had the chance to catch his breath yet.

When the dust finally settles on Hagel’s unforgettable year, there will be plenty of opportunities for the Morinville, Alta., product to reflect on a successful first full season with the Chicago Blackhawks that culminated with his first chance to represent Canada internationally at the 2021 IIHF World Championship.

“It’s been a crazy year,” Hagel says. “I haven’t been able to process much of it. I just can’t wait to sit back and take some time thinking about it.”

Earning the opportunity to pull on a Team Canada sweater for the first time in his young career is a fitting end to a season filled with plenty of firsts for Hagel, who recorded nine goals and 24 points in 52 games for the Blackhawks after beginning the year overseas on loan with HC Thurgau of the Swiss League – Switzerland’s second tier of pro hockey.

“I’ve never done anything with Hockey Canada before,” he adds. “Just to have this chance at the end of this long, crazy year, I think that’s something special. I’m super grateful for my opportunity to be able to play here.”

When you factor in the path the 22-year-old has taken to arrive in Riga as a full-fledged NHL player, it makes the journey doubly impressive.

After being overlooked in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft for his size, Hagel starred for two years in the Alberta Midget Hockey League with the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers before joining the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels and proving his doubters wrong by being selected in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres following a strong rookie season of 13 goals and 47 points in 72 games.

The Sabres opted not to offer Hagel a contract following his 2017-18 WHL season, and the winger came back the following year with renewed motivation. He focused on his diet, training and employing his active style of play that led to a dominant year of 41 goals and 102 points. He accomplished his goal of earning an NHL contract ahead of schedule, signing with Chicago in late October 2018.

“It’s been a crazy journey,” Hagel says. “Not signing a contract in Buffalo where I was drafted, obviously I had no idea where I’d be down the road. But I was just obviously grateful to get that contract and knew I needed to do something with it.”

It’s not hard to see what the Blackhawks like in Hagel as a player who’s reliable in all areas. He’ll win battles and forecheck, he’ll keep possession in the offensive zone with strength and balance, he’ll utilize a quick stick to play sound defensive hockey without the puck and he’ll produce offensively.

Following his first full pro season in the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs, Hagel made his NHL debut against the San Jose Sharks on March 11, 2019 – a day before the COVID-19 pandemic paused the NHL schedule.

Starting the 2020-21 NHL season on Chicago’s taxi squad, Hagel was in the line-up three games later. It was the opportunity to stick he’d been waiting for, and the chance to prove himself provided ample spark to a player who’s had to overcome adversity at every stage of his young career.

“It all comes down to your opportunity and what you do with it,” Hagel says. “As soon as I got mine, I knew I needed to run with it. There are a lot of good players in Chicago and a lot of good players coming up. You’re fighting for a job every single night, and it’s kind of the motivation you need to use. Your spot’s not always going to be there, so you have to do something with it.”

Hagel played in all of Chicago’s remaining 52 games, recording nine goals and 15 assists, as his tool kit as a foot-on-the-pedal forward found consistency in the Blackhawks lineup.

“I think that was one thing that kind of motivated me to stay in the lineup and earn everything I get,” he continues. “I knew that’s what I needed to do. At the start, you’re obviously nervous. Your head’s in a blender, you’re thinking about a million things, but just being able to play consistently was one thing I needed this year and I think I did a pretty good job with it.”

The setting and the size of the ice, along with his teammates and coaches, may be different for Hagel in the red and white of Canada at the IIHF World Championship, but the weight of competing in his first international tournament isn’t any different for him than when opportunity knocked in Chicago for the first time.

“I think just being over here is something special. Not many kids get to play for Team Canada, and I have the opportunity to do so. For myself, I think I just have to play the same way I did in Chicago. I have one type of game, and I just have to roll with that and play that way for myself to be effective.”

But don’t pinch Hagel just yet.

“If you would’ve told me at the start of the year that I was going to be here playing in the world championship, I would’ve called you crazy,” he says. “It’s been a super cool experience.”

For more information:

Dominick Saillant
Director, Communications
Hockey Canada
514-895-9706
[email protected]

 

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
403-284-6484
[email protected]

 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada
Office: 403-777-4567
Mobile: 905-906-5327
[email protected]

 

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