Former Red Deer Rebels forward Brandon Hagel. (Photo bv BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Former Red Deer Rebels forward Brandon Hagel. (Photo bv BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)

Hagel flourishing in early days of pro hockey

Former Rebel has 11 points in 20 games with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs

Brandon Hagel was a beloved figure in a Red Deer Rebels uniform.

One of the best of all time to suit up for the club to be sure, he rose to the top of the charts in several offensive categories by the time it was all said and done.

A formidable feat, considering the undersized winger was once passed over in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, only to play four seasons and 259 games in the league.

His finest work came in his WHL swansong when he earned an NHL contract and topped the 100-point mark for the first time in his career, the first Rebel to do so since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in 2010.

In his final WHL season last year, the Morinville product became the franchise leader in assists (176), moved into second in points (279) and fourth in goals (103).

He doesn’t think about all that too often, because he’s onto the next goal.

“It was good. I can’t focus on that anymore. Sometimes people bring it up and I’ll thank them, but my next goal is the NHL and I have to move on from that and keep pushing forward,” said the 21-year-old.

Hagel is into is first pro season with the Rockford IceHogs, the AHL affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks. He dipped his toe in the water at the end of last season for eight games, recording just one assist.

This year, playing largely a third-line role, he’s been a productive player. He has pitched in six goals and five assists through 20 games, and is quickly finding out what it takes to play at the next level.

“Being able to fit into your role and do different things,” he said.

“It’s not always the same but once you adapt that way, it’s pretty good and obviously Red Deer set me up for a good opportunity and it’s a first-class organization and they are definitely going to translate to the pro game here.”

His first big pro milestone came on Nov. 3 against the Chicago Wolves when he scored his first goal.

“It was pretty good, I was snake bitten for a little bit, but finally got it out of the way and they’ve kinda just been coming one at a time. Nice to get it out of the way. Keep playing and hope good things happen,” noted the first-year pro.

One thing the Hagel quickly noticed in the AHL, is that it’s not all that dissimilar to his time with the Rebels. He praised Brent Sutter and the organization for preparing him for the American League challenge.

“Red Deer ran perfect, Brent has been through it all and he prepared me for exactly what I needed for the pro level and has helped me out a ton. I’ve noticed it and I can’t thank them enough,” Hagel said.

He’s also got a close friend to lean on, as Reese Johnson, his former teammate with the Rebels is centering his own line in Rockford.

Johnson is also being quietly productive with the IceHogs, notching seven points in 17 games. Hagel is living with another talented first-year pro, 20-year-old right winger, MacKenzie Entwistle, a 2017 third round pick by the Blackhawks. The young core have a lot in common and have really connected off the ice, including on an early-season trip to San Antonio.

“The road trips are pretty fun. We went down to San Antonio, we all had scooters, there was about 15 of us rolling around,” Hagel said.

“We have a great group of guys and that’s just a good thing to have at the pro level.”

So far, the two former Rebels and Entwhistle are playing a key role on the up and coming Rockford team, which is 12-8-0-1 on the year and winners of their last three.

If Hagel has anything to say about it, he hopes this isn’t the last stop, just the beginning of a long and prosperous pro career, much like his time in Red Deer.

I think consistency is a huge part. You want to play simple and just be good every single night,” he said.

“Whether your legs are going or not, just have to make the right decisions and hopefully that will get me to to the NHL.”

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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