Most hockey players are known first and foremost for what they do on the ice. They might score a lot of goals, be great on the assist, be quick to drop the gloves, or prone to flash the leather and deny scorers on the other team. Once in awhile, there is a player who makes a positive name for himself off the ice as well.
New addition to the Portland Pirates, Kyle Hagel, is one example of a hockey player that really goes above and beyond. The 28-year- old forward from Hamilton, Ontario is settled into a new city for the 2013-2014 season. Joining the Pirates was incredibly appealing for Hagel, who has made a name for himself by not hesitating to drop his gloves.
“They’ve got a coach that’s cut from the same cloth as I am. He’s a guy that had over 300 penalty minutes at least once in his career. That was an attractive feature. They’re just a young, hardworking team. I thought it would be a great group to be a part of,” Hagel said. “He’s a coach that understands my role and respects the it. He knows it’s not always the easiest thing to do and it’s good to have a coach that’s sympathetic with you in that case.”
This upcoming season will be the first that Hagel has played in the Eastern Conference during his time with the AHL. Playing with the Pirates, 36 of their 78 total games will be against the Manchester Monarchs, the Providence Bruins, and the Worcester Sharks. Seeing teams like that so frequently definitely allows emotions to run high.
“When you play those same teams back to back or play a lot of home and homes, emotions become a big part of the game. If you’ve got some heart and soul guys or tough guys on your team, it’s probably going to pay off,” he said of his new division.
The style of game fans can expect from Hagel is unquestionably a tough game. He is no stranger to the dirty work that some other players might avoid. If he needs to stand up for a teammate, he will do that without being asked. This is the role that he has created for himself and he is definitely valuable.
“I bring fourth line grits. I’m just trying to work on things and do the things that sometimes go unnoticed. I’m blocking shots, finishing checks, and creating back pressure. I try to do some of the dirty work,” said Hagel.
Unlike some of his tough counterparts in professional hockey, Hagel did not come up through the Canadian junior leagues. Since those teams decided to overlook him, he turned his sights on playing college hockey. When Princeton showed interest, he knew it would be a great fit. But, how does a player that comes up through the Ivy Leagues end up slugging it out?
“My first year pro, I was in the ECHL. I wanted to get called up. I knew there was probably going to be one or two ways to do that. I could try to score 50 goals or I could try to fight as much as I could. I knew I probably wasn’t going to score a ton of goals,” Hagel said honestly and chuckled. “So I started fighting to attract some attention. You hope a coach or manager sees that you’re willing to fight and maybe that opens their eyes about what else you can do.”
Fighting has gained a lot of attention in professional hockey, especially lately. There are strong advocates both to keep it in the game and to take it out. Each side has it’s merits. But, hockey is a unique and dangerous sport. With all of the hits, many feel that fighting is an important part to protect teammates from more harm.
“It’s a loaded question. But, do I think fighting belongs in hockey? Yes, absolutely. It’s always been a part of the game. It is unique to our sport that things get settled that way,” he said. “I think if you were to talk to the majority of players, they would say they want fighting in hockey. Even the guys who never get in a fight are sometimes the strongest advocates for fighting still being a part of the game.”
“Hockey is unique in the sense that we police ourselves a little bit. It leaves emotions very bare out there sometimes. When something happens that’s wrong, someone stands up and addresses it immediately,” Hagel added.
Hagel is a supporter of keeping fighting in hockey, but he understands that there is a lot of debate. The debate spread to his own family a few years ago when his brother suffered a severe concussion. Although it seems at odds to keeping fighting in the game, he knows that it is important to try and remove the head shots. He has also suffered his own injuries in choosing to make his name as a fighter.
“Sometimes it does get hard and there are injuries. I’ve had really bad injuries because of fighting. I’ve had 3 surgeries on my right shoulder. I had to have a major bone graft and reconstructive surgery. I missed that whole season,” Hagel said. “It shows how dangerous it really is and they are definitely taking an enormous risk every time they do it. There’s a reason those players demand a certain degree of respect from their teammates and their opponents.”
Missing a whole season is never easy for any athlete. Seeing how that athlete copes with the injury and the following recovery period shows a lot about the athlete’s attitude. Hagel is an example of an excellent attitude that carries over to every day life.
“As soon as I got hurt, I knew it was going to be a long road to get back. People have done it before, not only hockey players but other athletes as well. If you look at Adrian Peterson, he’s a guy that had major knee surgery that should have been career ending. But he battled back,” said Hagel. “You can’t be lazy in the rehab process and you have to keep focused on where you want to be. You can claw your way back from just about any injury.”
Kyle Hagel is someone that you can definitely learn something from. He is dedicated and knows what it takes to go after something he wants. He believes that the dedication he brought in overcoming his most serious injury is something that you should bring to life in general. You have to work towards what you want and you can never slack off, according to him.
That work ethic and dedication might seem impressive enough on their own, but the name Hagel has made for himself off the ice is equally impressive, if not more so. Just over a year ago, he started the mobile app Shnarped that is gaining popularity in the hockey community with former Princeton teammate, Dustin Sproat. The app is currently available for iPhones and iPads. Players and fans alike can use the app to track season stats, career stats, salary information, tweets, and more in one convenient location.
“It was his idea to put together a website that aggregated all the different information you wanted to look at when you’re tracking hockey players,” he said. “We started working on it in the summer of 2012 and developed it into a mobile app. It’s been going pretty well.”
Later this month, on October 30th, Shnarped will be featured on CBC’s Dragon’s Den. It is similar to Shark Tank in the US and is a great opportunity for everyone on the Shnarped team. It can only help to get the word out more about the app. If you haven’t checked it out, you should definitely give it a shot. It makes finding information about your favorite players much easier. But, it’s not just fans using it. In fact, the fans are noteven the heaviest users.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is that the pros themselves, the guys who are verified on the app, are the heaviest users by far,” he said. “We say it’s built for the players by the players. The guys who are verified pros use it almost more than any other demographic out there.”
Even though Shnarped has made incredible strides in the first year, there are still things everyone on the team wants to improve. They are constantly testing the features and seeing what work can be done. That attention to detail is sure to make Shnarped one of the most popular hockey apps out there.
“It’s a work in progress. When we first launched it, it wasn’t as good as it is now. What it is now is still a work in progress. I’m still anxious every single day and wondering when the next release is coming out. I’m wondering why certain parts aren’t in there yet. I’m a stickler with the details,” Hagel said. “We’re happy with how far we’ve come but we want it to get bigger. Hopefully this hockey season will be a turning point for us. Eventually, we’d like to extend it to other sports.”
Even now, Hagel stays very involved in the day to day activities. For him, it does not seem hard to balance that involvement with also being a professional hockey player himself. He has learned some excellent time management skills that allow him to do everything that he wants to do. Every Monday, the company has a conference call to check in on their goals for the week as well as what they want to do. That usually ends up working with with Hagel’s AHL schedule. They end up with a lot of Mondays off after having played games Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. But his biggest role is much more important to the success of Shnarped.
“The biggest role I have with Shnarped is interfacing with the players. I have guys on my team telling me what they like, what they don’t like, how often they use it, and if they interact on it. They tell me what makes them want to interact and what makes them not want to,” he said. “I collect that data and give it to our development team and tech team back in Vancouver. From there, they can make improvements. If it’s going to be by the players, for the players, then we have to listen to their concerns and try to make it better for them.”
The Shnarped team hopes that appearing on CBC’s Dragon’s Den will help to give them a push in popularity. It will definitely get their name out there and hopefully will increase their users. Hagel targets more NHL users as being something that would be most helpful to increasing the overall number of users.
“After getting on CBC and getting a little more publicity, I would like to see a couple guys on every NHL team using the app,” he said. “Right now, I think it’s between 30-40% of players in the NHL use twitter actively which is about 6 guys per team. If we have 4-5 guys on every team using it, that would be really helpful.”
It will be interesting to see how Sharped does after the next season. But, that will not be the only thing that Hagel has going on aside from playing for the Portland Pirates. He also co-founded a charity called Hockey Players 4 Kids (HP4K). Once again, he worked with former Princeton teammate, Dustin Sproat. HP4K has a number of programs including Stick to Reading, where players go and read at local schools, and Give Moore for the Holidays, where players band together to provide presents to those in the community who might not get them otherwise.
“We figured as hockey players, we have tons of spare time. Why not spend it trying to help out in the community? It’s especially good for hockey players that bounce around from team to team every year, like me this year. I’m playing in Portland and I don’t know anybody except for my teammates,” Hagel said. “At some point this year, I’ll go into a local school and see if I can set up a reading program. The kids get to play hockey with me at the end of the year. The teachers love it and the schools love it. The kids end up reading a lot more. You get the community behind you too.”
It sets a good example for the community, kids especially, to see athletes giving back. This is not something specific to hockey, but true of any professional athlete. There are plenty of athletes out there who want to make a positive impact in the community they live in during the season.
“I think it’s a duty. You’re in a very special place where people in your community look up to you or at least know who you are. I think you can use that to make some kind of positive change. You can brighten kids days,” he said. “There’s a lot of kids that aren’t in the best situation in all the cities I’ve played in. To just spend a little bit of time with them, you might be able to inject a little bit of hope into their lives. I think that it’s must better when we give up our spare time like this.”
During the course of the season, Kyle Hagel is sure to make his presence know as he drops the gloves to defend his teammates. He’s also undeniably an inspirational player. He is an asset to the organizations he joins both for how he handles himself on the ice as well as what he does off the ice. Portland Pirates fans are sure to welcome him as a favorite this season.