Brandon Hagel is the first to tell you he didn’t get off to a good start to the Western Hockey League season.
Returning from the Buffalo Sabres camp the Red Deer Rebels winger took some time to readjust.
“At the pro camp I was playing with elite players and just returning here it took time to adapt and to get my game to where it should have been,” said the 18-year-old from Morinville. “I wasn’t in the right mind set and it took time to build that back up as well.
‘My game simply wasn’t there. I wasn’t working hard enough and doing the things that make me my best.”
It’s that ability to be critical of himself and know what he has to do to be successful, is what makes him a top six forward with the Rebels.
Returning from the Sabres he registered points in only one of his first five games. Once back on track the six-foot-one, 165-pound Hagel has points in six of his last seven.
“Things been working of late,” he said.
He’s also been lining up alongside team scoring leader Michael Spacek.
“Hags was moving around early on as we mixed and matched, but once he got on a line with Spacek they clicked,” said Rebels assistant coach Pierre-Paul Lamoureux. “They have that chemistry on the ice. We’ll continue to see where that goes.”
Hagel agrees playing with Spacek benefits his game.
“We seem to fit together,” he said.
Lamoureux likes everything about Hagel’s game.
“One thing Hags always brings is a strong work ethic and he competes. He’s a worker on the ice … a gamer, which we appreciate.”
Hagel grew up in Morinville and played his bantam and midget hockey in Fort Saskatchewan. He played the 2014-15 season with the Fort Saskatchewan midget AAA Rangers, scoring 24 goals and 28 assists in 34 games and was a second team all-star in the Alberta Midget Hockey League.
He wasn’t picked in the WHL Bantam Draft, but was put on the Saskatoon Blades list. It was something that didn’t interest him and he joined the AJHL’s Whitecourt Wolverines late in the 2014-15 season, playing six games and scoring once and adding an assist. He started the next year with the Wolverines and had a goal and two helpers in three games when he was contacted by the Rebels.
“Red Deer called and asked if I’d come to practice. I felt it was a good opportunity for me because of the organization and the Memorial Cup being here. It was one of the best decisions I could have made.”
Hagel fit right in last season and finished with 13 goals and 34 assists in 72 games. This year he is averaging a point a game with eight goals and 12 assists in 20 games.
Hagel was picked by the Sabres in the sixth round — 159th overall — in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
“I was surprised. I didn’t think about being picked,” he said. “As for the bantam draft I thought about it for one day and then went on.”
But he was five-foot-two and 103-pounds the year of his draft.
“A little small,” he said with a smile.
He has grown considerably but knows he still has to get stronger.
“When I left Buffalo they just said to continue to get bigger and stronger and to work on my shot, which will come as I gain strength. If I get those I will have a better opportunity with them.”
“He does need to continue to work on his conditioning and strength,” agreed Lamoureux. “I know it’s tough at this level, but in those three (games)-in-three (days) situations he has to get his body and mind right.”
But Lamoureux knows Hagel has the right mind set to continue to develop.
“He wants to contribute and he gets upset with himself when he doesn’t make a play he knows he could have made. He has the right mind set to be a difference maker. He wants to do the right things within our structure.”
Hagel’s skating is one of his strengths, and alongside Spacek, puts the opposition defencemen on their heels.
“When Hags uses his speed and attacks he’s rewarded for it,” added Lamoureux. “That’s why he works so well with Spacek. They bring so much speed and tenacity they’re tough to defend. They attack with speed which other teams have to respect.”
The Rebels will need the Hagel-Spacek combination to contribute when they host the Medicine Hat Tigers tonight at 7 p.m. at the Centrium.
The Rebels will be without forward Grayson Pawlenchuk (lower body) and rearguard Alexander Alexeyev (upper body).
‘We’ve also have the flu bug going around,” said Lamoureux.