Wild’s Hagel pays his dues in hard work

by Tom Witosky | AHL On The Beat Archive

When Iowa Wild forward Marc Hagel arrived in Des Moines in September for training camp, he headed in his car directly to Wells Fargo Arena where he planned to unload his gear for the upcoming season.

But as he approached the arena from the north on 3rd Street, a large Wild banner hanging on the northwest corner of the arena caught his eye. The closer he got to the building the more familiar the player pictured on the banner looked.

“I couldn’t tell it was me right away. I was driving down the street and looked left at the building and went, oh yeah, that’s new,” the 26-year-old Hamilton, Ont., native said. “Then I looked closer and had to pull over. It was me.”

Unbeknownst to Hagel, Wild club officials selected him to become a poster child for the outside advertising of the Iowa Wild as it entered its second season in Des Moines. Club officials had noticed that his constant hustle in the 46 games he played for the Wild the previous season and his long hair and good looks had made him a fan favorite during the club’s inaugural season.

Last year, Hagel scored eight goals and had seven assists as he cut his teeth in his first year in the American Hockey League. In his first 12 games this season, Hagel has six goals and three assists and, despite a recent upper-body injury, is expected to be a mainstay in the Wild line-up.

“He is a worker,” John Torchetti, the Wild’s head coach, said last week, describing Hagel as the kind of player well-suited for the Wild’s style of play. “He is an around the net kind of guy – constantly cycling. He is the kind of guy we want Wild players to be — someone we count on night in and night out.”

Hagel takes that kind of praise just like he does his growing fan following — something to encourage him to play harder and to be grateful as he tries to earn his way into the National Hockey League.

“I hear the fans and I really appreciate it,” he said. “When it comes to our fans, everyone on the team appreciates them a lot. They do get us to play harder.”

Hagel’s path to the AHL while beginning in junior A hockey in Canada took a different turn. His older brother, Kyle, had attended Princeton University for four years and had played hockey in the ECAC. Marc decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps.

“It was the best decision I ever made in my life,” Hagel said. “Princeton is a very special place with very special people. Just being in that environment and being immersed in that kind of learning experience meant a lot to me. It was a big four years in my life.”

On the ice, Hagel played three years – missing his junior season due to an injury. During those years, he played in 89 games and had a total of 34 points as a forward. Off the ice, Hagel earned a bachelor’s degree in four years in political science.

“It boiled down to a choice between economics and political science. I became very interested in the issue of human rights and found that the culture of Princeton was pretty special to get into those kinds of issues,” he said.

But after his four years at Princeton, Hagel found himself with one year of athletic eligibility left under NCAA rules, but out of years under Ivy League rules. “There is no redshirting at Princeton. You go in for four years and you get out with a degree in four years.”

As a result, Hagel decided to play an additional year of college hockey at Miami of Ohio while also obtaining a master’s degree in public policy. On the ice, Hagel had his best collegiate season with 19 points in 42 games as the Red Hawks won the CCHA regular season title that year and played in the NCAA Men’s Division I playoffs.

After a year in the ECHL, General Manager Jim Mill signed Hagel to an AHL contract after a successful stint under a tryout contract. Hagel finished the season with just 15 points, but left the coaching staff impressed enough to ask him to return.

Hagel, who has been playing on scoring lines for Torchetti, began his season with six goals in seven games, but is sidelined temporarily with an injury. Torchetti said he doesn’t have any doubt that Hagel has the ability to play in the NHL.

“There is no reason he can’t play in the NHL. He just has to make sure he plays a solid two-way game,” Torchetti said. “He just needs to be more consistent.”

During these years, Hagel said he has never thought much about not being drafted to play professional hockey or whether he is overcoming some kind of adversity. Instead, Hagel said he is taking life one day at a time.

“This is just my journey, my route. It’s just been a little slower than most,” he said adding that he intends to enjoy every minute of his hockey career. “Every day I am blessed to be able to play hockey and everything else I go through is something special.”

Is it fun?

“Ya think,” he said. “I have been very fortunate in my life and I do try to approach each and every day with a sense of gratitude. I really am just happy to be here."

But does he intend to have the Wild give him the banner that now hangs outside of Wells Fargo?

“I don’t know where I would put it,” he said.