Brandon Hagel received the phone call every hockey player dreams of this past Thursday when he was called up to the NHL.
Hagel was sleeping in the day after the Rockford IceHogs’ 2-1 shootout win at Grand Rapids when his hotel phone rang with the news. He then packed his bag and headed to Toronto to join the Blackhawks for the start of a memorable week.
Hagel practiced with the team the next two days, but was healthy scratch for Chicago’s 6-2 win at Toronto and 5-2 victory against the Jets. After the Blackhawks’ game Sunday, he was reassigned with defenseman Dennis Gilbert — who was called up earlier in the day — to Rockford and played in the IceHogs’ 3-0 home loss to Belleville on Monday afternoon.
Before the Rockford media could do postgame interviews with Hagel and Gilbert, the two had packed their bags and jumped into a car to drive back to Chicago. Both players practiced again with the Blackhawks, but were scratched from the lineup then were told after Chicago’s 4-3 loss to the Panthers on Tuesday that they had been reassigned to the AHL again and played in a 1-0 loss to Texas on Wednesday back in Rockford.
Even with the up and down nature of the week and not making his NHL debut like he had hoped, Hagel found some comfortability during what he called a “cool experience.”
“It was good because I got comfortable with the [Blackhawks] coaching staff as well as all the guys around there and that’s always nice,” Hagel said. “When my opportunity comes again and I’m up there, I’m already comfortable and know everyone around me. It was good that way.”
Hagel, who leads Rockford with 13 goals and is second in points with 21 in 40 games during his rookie season, admitted he was “a little nervous” when he walked into the Blackhawks dressing room. His nerves settled down a bit when he saw one of his close friends in Matthew Highmore would be sitting next to him he felt at ease.
“I was close to him down here and I was able to talk to him up there,” Hagel said of Highmore, who has played a fourth-line role in 19 NHL games since Dec. 12. “He gave me some little pointers here and there.
“He’s a good player, he does a lot of good things right, a lot of little things. That’s what’s going to get you to the next level.”
Hagel laughed off the notion he would be frustrated by not make his NHL debut this past week, and said he knows what to do to receive another call up.
“Just stick to my game, and do what I do best. ... work hard and stuff then obviously the opportunity will come,” Hagel said of what the Blackhawks coaching staff told him to do in the AHL. “Getting called up is one thing because it shows you’re doing something right down here.
“I just have to stick to that to get my opportunity again.”