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Brandon Hagel brings his own brand of swagger to the Chicago Blackhawks: ‘I just love how committed he is to doing the hard stuff every shift’

April 2nd, 2021 by Phil Thompson - Chicago Tribune

Future Hall of Famer or not, Brandon Hagel is not the type to let Patrick Kane gaslight him in a game of two-puck.

“He makes up his rules sometimes,” Hagel deadpanned. “We just bug each other here and there. It’s just one of those things.”

If there’s one thing the 22-year-old Chicago Blackhawks forward’s coaches and teammates have learned about him, backing down isn’t an option.

“He certainly has got a little swagger to him,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “From my perspective, the motor, the work ethic, the mentality, that is the thing. That’s what makes him great.”

It’s an assessment Stan Bowman, hockey operations president and general manager, agrees with.

“The thing I like about Hagel is he never stops,” Bowman said. “He’s the definition of relentless. That’s something I think our team, we need more of it.

“He’s not the biggest guy,” Bowman said of the 5-foot-11, 174-pound Hagel, “but you knock him down, he just gets right back up. You knock him down again he just gets right back up, chases you down, takes the puck and goes the other way.

“It’s his mentality more than anything else that’s impressive, and it’s helped our team.”

Hagel grew up that way in Morinville, Alberta.

“My parents work hard for everything they got and they helped me along the way,” Hagel said. “My No. 1 goal is to give everything I got for them and bring it every night for them.

“They helped me so much to get to this point, they sacrificed tons of things. If they’re going to do that, I need to pay it right back to them, just by giving them everything I’ve got every single night because I know they still do that day in and day out today.”

Hagel, a Buffalo Sabres sixth-round pick in 2016, signed with the Hawks as a free agent in November 2018. His first NHL season was halted by the pandemic after one game, and he made this season’s debut in the third game of the season. But he has become a mainstay since.

“If you watch Brandon Hagel and you knew nothing about when he got in the league, he looks like he’s been in the league a year or two,” Bowman said. “He doesn’t look like he’s a new player. I think that’s because of the confidence the coaches have shown in him.”

Hagel has four goals and nine assists in 33 games entering Wednesday night, but he has become the quintessential intangibles guy.

“Even the play he made on (Carl Soderberg’s) power-play goal on the entry (March 23), he held a guy off, he was patient, and he made a clean play tape-to-tape which broke pressure,” Colliton said. “We probably don’t score without that. That’s been encouraging to see.”

Hagel said after the helper, “I’m trying to help these guys get into the zone with my speed and get pucks for the guys.”

The rookie forward’s role has expanded throughout the season.

He has gone from averaging about 12½ minutes in his first 10 games to slightly under 15 minutes in his most recent 10. During that span he played on the penalty kill and added the power play to his duties.

Bowman said Hagel “didn’t even play until the second or third game. Now he’s playing in power play, penalty kill, five-on-five — but he’s earned it with his play. He’s very consistent.”

“I wouldn’t say I’ve surprised myself,” Hagel said of his role and performance so far.

“I’m just trying to come out there and play every game like the way I know I need to play and I want to be a consistent player. So I’m just taking it game by game and responsibility’s getting put on my shoulders, which is nice. I thrive for that stuff.”

Hagel’s scrappy play prompted his addition to the first power-play unit with Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Soderberg and Adam Boqvist.

“We felt like he could help us on the entries and getting pucks back,” Colliton said.

It’s a small sample size, “but so far, he’s done a good job,” Colliton said.

On Thursday, Hagel assisted on Patrick Kane’s power-play goal against the Florida Panthers.

But one of Hagel’s biggest contributions has been helping stabilize the second line with Dominik Kubalik and David Kampf as the right wing.

The line has produced seven goals to none by the opposition in five-on-five situations and have a 61.6% expected goals-for percentage, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

“The Kampf-Kuby-Hagel group has done a great job playing against top lines, typically, and not just defending well but creating a lot going the other way and building momentum for our team,” Colliton said. “They found a way to chip in offensively as well.

Along with the top line that features Kane, DeBrincat and (most often) Pius Suter, “that’s probably the base right now of our team that we’re working with.”

Kubalik said earlier this month that once he started playing with Hagel, they clicked.

“We knew what to expect from each other,” he said. “I’m going to be finding the puck and shooting it and Hags will skate with it, win those battles.”

This month they’ve assisted each other on two goals apiece.

“Kuby’s a hell of a player, obviously,” Hagel said “He’s a really good goal scorer and he’s really fast and works hard and gets pucks back. Just so much support on the ice. I mean, Kampy’s always there, he makes good plays, he’s really good in the ‘D’-zone and gets us out of there right away so we can play offense.

“It’s nice. We kind of have three different things going on that line, and it all works out when we’re all working hard.”

Bowman and Colliton agreed they’d like have more players with Hagel’s effort, which Colliton called contagious.

“That’s what we’re trying to build here, because that’s the standard for how you’re going to carry yourself,” Colliton said.

“When you’re on the ice, you have the responsibility for the team in your hands, and I just love how committed he is to doing the hard stuff every shift. The more of our guys we have doing that, the more success we’re going to have.”

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