At 6 feet, 205 pounds, Kyle Hagel doesn’t look big enough to be the tough guy for the Portland Pirates.
But size doesn’t matter when it comes to standing up for your teammates, and Hagel, a six-year pro veteran, is always willing to do that.
While appearing in 264 games in the AHL or ECHL, Hagel has been involved in 104 fights, about one in every three games. In his first six games with the Pirates, he received three fighting majors.
“It’s a tough role,” Coach Ray Edwards said. “First of all, it’s physically demanding and it’s mentally demanding.
“There are some nights when you’re not in the lineup, there are some nights when you don’t play as much as you want. It has to be the right person. You have to be able to understand. Some nights it’s eight minutes. Some nights it’s two minutes. Some nights you’re in the stands. No matter what happens, you’ve got to come to the rink every day working hard and being positive and helping the young guys. It’s really important to get the right guy there, and (Hagel) fits all of that.”
With Hagel, who already has two assists, there’s a bonus.
“The thing about (him), which is nice, is (he) can play,” Edwards said. “You can put him out on the (penalty) kill. You can put him out during the last minute and you can trust him to block a shot, get a puck out.”
Hagel’s value is not lost on his teammates.
“He’s not afraid to fight anybody,” defenseman Chris Summers. “He steps up when he needs to. He’s definitely a high-energy guy and the guys feed off that.”
When Hagel talks, teammates listen.
“In the locker room, he says the right things at the right time to try to get us going every game,” forward Chris Brown said. “He’s a really good guy to have on your team, especially when you’re going through a little bit of a down slope.”
Hagel, 28, started playing the tough-guy role following his graduation from Princeton in 2008.
“When I came out of college, I thought I could be a good fourth-line player and have the potential to move up in the hockey world as a fourth-liner,” he said. “In order to attract attention it wasn’t going to be through scoring goals so I had to do something else. Fighting was just one way to make noise, and attract the attention of scouts and management and try to battle my way up.”
Hagel, who was one of the last players to leave the ice after practice Thursday at the MHG Ice Center in Saco, has worked to improve all his hockey skills.
“Fighting is just one part of it,” he said. “You don’t want to be a one-dimensional player. You want to find different ways you can make an impact on the game because sometimes there’s not to be a fight to be had. Sometimes you’ve got to throw big hits or get involved in other ways in order to swing the momentum. If the only thing you can do is fight, then on nights when it doesn’t happen you’re kind of irrelevant out there on the ice.”
Fighting isn’t allowed in college hockey but Princeton has been a breeding ground for players good with their fists.
George Parros, a 2003 alumnus playing for the Montreal Canadiens, is in his 10th NHL season, and Kevin Westgarth, a 2007 Princeton graduate with the Carolina Hurricanes, is in his fourth NHL season. Both of them have been on teams that won the Stanley Cup.
“When I was at Princeton, the coach was very hard-nosed,” Hagel said. “He was really tough and really hard on us, and it made us a hard-nosed team. If there were fights that broke out in practice, Coach would let them go.”
Coach Guy Gwadowsky is in his third season with the fledgling Division I program at Penn State after spending seven seasons at Princeton.
“He was a hard-nosed guy and I just think he kind of instilled in guys, ‘Do whatever it takes in order to succeed,’ and that’s why I think some guys are willing to fight in order to move on,” Hagel said. “He was one of the most influential people, not just in my hockey career but in my life. I’m forever thankful to him because the one thing he established was accountability.”
NOTES: The Phoenix Coyotes recalled defenseman Brandon Gormley from the Pirates. In seven games, Gormley, 21, has five assists to lead the Pirates’ defensemen in scoring. … Forward Tim Kennedy was reassigned to the Pirates after playing six games with Phoenix. He had three assists for the Coyotes.
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