Hometown players making an impact for Bulldogs

By Stuart McComish || AHL On The Beat Archive

Two Hamilton natives are making important contributions on and off the ice this season for the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Left winger Kyle Hagel and centre Joey Tenute are the third and fourth players from Steeltown to play for the Bulldogs. They join defenceman Ryan Risidore, who played 99 games over three seasons from 1999 to 2003, and right winger Joe Seroski, who skated in four games from 1997-99.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Hagel, a 28-year-old who joined the Bulldogs in the offseason after playing 86 American Hockey League games over two seasons with the Rockford IceHogs before a shoulder injury limited him to seven games with the Peoria Rivermen in 2011-12.

“I love it. It’s awesome to play in front of my family and friends all the time.”

Tenute, who turns 30 on April 2, had spent the past four seasons in Europe. He joined the Bulldogs on Jan. 8 and signed a contract with the club on Jan. 31. Tenute played 129 games for the Hershey Bears from 2005-07, winning a Calder Cup title in 2006, and skated in 78 games for the San Antonio Rampage in 2007-08.

“It’s a proud moment for me, my family and my friends. I never knew if I would get this opportunity, but it’s something I thought about. After playing four years in Europe I thought the dream might be over, but it worked out. I’m really putting my heart into this. It’s fun to see some familiar faces in the crowd. It’s great to be back in the AHL.”

Hagel is among the Bulldogs players at the forefront of the club’s off-ice initiatives. He is a co-founder and member of the board of directors of Hockey Players 4 Kids, a non-profit organization that encourages players to get involved in community endeavors in the cities in which they play around the world. Hagel and teammates Antoine Corbin and Steve Quailer took a program called Stick to Reading to a public elementary school not far from the Bulldogs’ downtown Hamilton home at Copps Coliseum.

“Hockey Players 4 Kids has a couple of different community outreach programs for guys to get involved with,” said Hagel. “One thing I have done the last couple of years, and I am continuing here, is the Stick to Reading program.

“I did it in Rockford and Peoria. It is a six-week long reading competition and we go into a school, with grades from four to six or five to seven. The kids compete with each other to see who can read the most books over a six-week period. We come in and check in with them and the kids that win get to play in a ball hockey game with and against members of the Bulldogs in their own gym. The kids who read the most books get to come to a Bulldogs game and meet the team after the game. We are hoping to get it started in another school in the next two weeks.”

Hagel said the life of a professional hockey player gives him ample time to concentrate on community work.

“My parents always encouraged us to give back to our community whenever we could, but I didn’t do a lot of volunteer work when I was a kid. In high school I was so busy going to class, getting my homework done and playing hockey in the evenings, studying for my SATs and completing my applications for university. I didn’t have a lot of spare time to devote to it.

“As a pro hockey player a lot of your days are over pretty early and you have a lot of free time in the afternoons so you may as well get involved in something. It’s fun.”

Hagel played two seasons for the Junior A Hamilton Red Wings before enrolling at Princeton University in 2004. He played 117 games over four seasons with the Tigers and graduated with a degree in politics. Hagel said his background gives him credibility with educators when he goes to school to talk to students. He said if he wasn’t a hockey player he would have considered going to law school.

“When I go in and meet with the principal or the teachers I tell them I graduated from Princeton and they take you a little more seriously when you are talking to the kids about the importance of staying in school and the importance of reading and developing good work habits.”

Hagel has three assists in 38 games and is second on the Bulldogs with 125 penalty minutes. He said he also takes part in anti-bullying discussions with students.

“When we open the floor to questions the first question the kids usually have is about the fights. We try to explain it is part of the game and is in a controlled environment unlike out on the street where you can get in big trouble doing it. Teachers, parents and kids here seem to understand that it is part of the game and isn’t necessarily a reflection of who you are as a person. It’s a role you play as a member of a team.”

Tenute didn’t have a role on any team when the 2012-13 season opened. After spending last season with Tappara Tampere of the Finnish League and Klagenfurt of the Austrian League, Tenute was weighing offers when the National Hockey League lockout began Sept. 15.

“In the summer I didn’t really think the lockout would happen. I turned down a lot of contracts I wasn’t totally pleased with from teams in Europe. I decided to wait it out and that went on and on. I heard rumors the lockout would be ending and my agent told me something might come from Europe. The day the lockout ended the Bulldogs called my agent and it didn’t take me long to mull it over with my family and friends and know it would be a good fit.”

The Bulldogs, as the lowest-scoring team in the AHL, were the perfect destination for offensive powerhouse Tenute, who had recorded 69 goals and 97 assists for 166 points with the Bears and Rampage. He registered 271 points, including 95 goals, in four Ontario Hockey League seasons with the Barrie Colts and Sarnia Sting and chipped in with 34 goals and 75 points for the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL in 2004-05.

An eighth-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Tenute played one NHL game, for the Washington Capitals, in 2005-06. He has contributed two goals and five assists for seven points in 12 games with the Bulldogs and earned three assists in their last game, a 3-2 win over the visiting Toronto Marlies on Tuesday night.

“It couldn’t have worked out any better. From day one the coaches gave me a chance to play on the top line, play on the power play and assume a leadership role. I remember coming here to watch the Bulldogs when I was in elementary school and high school. I idolized those guys and when I was playing in the OHL I hoped I’d get a crack at playing in the AHL.

“When I was in Hershey I was proving to myself I could have a pro career and in the back of my mind always wondered if I’d play for the Bulldogs. It’s amazing how things work out in hockey.”

Tenute headed overseas in 2008-09 and led Jokerit of Finland in scoring with 38 points, including a team-high 17 goals. He spent the next two seasons playing in Germany, recording 45 points, including 15 goals, for the Frankfurt Lions in 2009-10 and playing 15 games for the Hamburg Freezers in 2010-11.

“It was a great experience and I have no regrets or anything bad to say about my time there. I grew up a lot as a person and really enjoyed meeting people and forming friendships with people from other countries. I picked up bits and pieces of new languages and learned about new cultures.

“ The hockey is great too and I will always look back on it as something that helped me as a player and a person. But after four years I was ready to come back. I like the North American game and playing at home is icing on the cake.”

Tenute said he hasn’t given any thought to his future beyond this season.

“When this season started I wasn’t even playing, now I am with a team in my hometown and I am just enjoying every day of this. I am trying to be a leader on this team and trying to find my game as well. It’s tough to jump into this league halfway thought the season, it’s a great league with loads of great players.

“It’s a challenge for me, but some days I have to pinch myself and really believe how things have worked out. It’s a great group of guys here with a great coaching staff and we deserve to have some success the rest of this season.”