Experienced newcomer fitting in with RedHawks

He is a redshirt senior by NCAA standards, but really he’s just a graduate student-athlete after spending the last four years playing and earning a bachelor’s degree in political science at Princeton University.

“I’m just a hockey player, man,” said Hagel, a native of Hamilton, Ontario. “I’m not here to step on anybody’s toes. I’m here to help the team win and provide a little experience. I’ll do what I can.”

Hagel was the team captain and Most Valuable Player for Princeton last season, completing a 92-game Tiger career that included 17 goals and 17 assists.

How did the 6-foot, 196-pound forward end up in Oxford? Well, Hagel only played three games as a junior and had a redshirt year due to injuries. Ivy League schools don’t permit fifth-year athletes, so he had a decision to make.

“Around Christmas time, I started realizing I had an extra year of NCAA eligibility,” Hagel said. “The loophole in the NCAA rules is that I could transfer anywhere in the country that wasn’t an Ivy League school and play right away without having to sit out a year. So around Christmas, I started getting recruited.”

He didn’t want to be a distraction to his Princeton teammates, so he didn’t tell them about his situation.

“It was definitely a strange feeling on many fronts,” Hagel admitted. “Being the captain of my team and none of the guys really knowing about it … I mean, they’re out in the living room watching TV and I’m fielding calls from head coaches. Being 23 years old and going on an official recruiting trip, I felt like I was 19 again.”

Associate head coach Brent Brekke was the point man in Miami’s recruitment of Hagel, who said, “Coach Brekke did an unbelievable job of getting me in here and making me feel like this is the place I needed to be. I came in and met Steve Spinell, who was captain-to-be, and it was great. Everybody made me feel like I was home right away here.”

Hagel went to the NCAA tournament with Princeton as a freshman, though the Tigers were just 38-45-12 over the last three seasons. He said the style of hockey played in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association is similar to what he saw in the ECAC.

“I’m proud of Princeton hockey. I love that place,” said Hagel, who turned 24 in September. “But hockey players are hockey players, whether they’re from the Ivy League or Miami Ohio. We’re all the same.

“Fitting in at Miami took a couple days. It’s fun to come to the rink and talk about a national championship every single day. Whatever my role may be, that’s a blast. We’ve got some unbelievable guys on our team.”

Hagel has been a central figure in the RedHawks’ offense thus far, though he has yet to score. He does have one assist.

“He’s one of those guys that can play on every line. He kills penalties for us. He’s just been very steady,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “He’s a smart guy. He knows the dynamics of the locker room and how to try to fit in.”

Hagel is working toward a master’s degree in political science at Miami. Does that mean he plans to be a politician?

“I highly doubt that,” Hagel said with a laugh. “My interest in politics isn’t so much in policy as it is understanding the channels and the devices in which you can make a difference and help people. That’s what I’m taking out of my education.”

Weekend series: Miami hosts Northern Michigan in CCHA play tonight and Saturday. The RedHawks are 5-2-1 overall and 2-2 in the league, while the Wildcats are 4-3-1, 1-2-1.

NMU hosted Michigan last weekend and came away with a 4-3 win and a 4-4 tie.

“Their goaltending is very good, their D is probably as good as anybody in the country, and their forwards are very dynamic,” Blasi said.

The MU coach said freshman Jay Williams (.910 save percentage, 2.70 goals-allowed average) will likely get the call in goal tonight, though freshman Ryan McKay is recovering from a leg injury and might be available to play if needed.

Junior Jared Coreau (.903, 2.94) is Northern Michigan’s goalie. The Wildcats’ point leader is senior forward Matt Thurber (one goal, 10 assists).

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