Hagemo's Dream Coming True

NHL Draft
NHL Draft Preview Schedule
(July 25th-30th)
Tuesday, July 26:

July 27, 2005

By Adam Wodon

Special to CSTV.com


Any other year, Nate Hagemo would be getting his suit to the dry cleaners for a trip to Ottawa, where he'd sit in an arena filled with fans, other players, family members and management types, waiting for a chance to walk on stage and put on an NHL sweater.


This year, Hagemo will probably be playing golf, waiting for his cell phone to ring.


Hagemo, like most other prospects, won't be at this year's NHL Draft. That's because, in the aftermath of the recently concluded NHL lockout, the draft won't he held publicly in one of the league's arenas. Instead, it's being conducted in Ottawa in relative obscurity.


But Hagemo is essentially just happy this day is finally here.


"It would've been nice to experience that; obviously it's a pretty big accomplishment," he said. "Starting out playing hockey, it's kind of like a dream then. But now that it's happening, it's like, 'Wow.' So it would've been nice to have that memory (of a public draft), but all the same it's still a draft."


Growing up in Edina, Minnesota, Hagemo may have a preference for the Minnesota Wild. But, like most others in his position, he says it doesn't really matter who drafts him. His nerves will have more to do with the excitement of the day than concern for where he'll end up.


"Anything would be great," he said. "I mean, I just want to play pro hockey. That's what I've wanted to do my whole life.


"I'll probably do something to get my mind off it. I'll probably play a round of golf, or go to the rink and do a lift or something, to calm myself down. I'll probably be pretty nervous, so it's better than sitting here."


And where exactly Hagemo falls in the draft is also something he's being very philosophical about.


"Obviously I'd like to be drafted higher," he said. "At the same time, you have to realize that if things don't go where you're projected, not to let that change you as a player and not to think you failed because of that. It's only one race in the marathon."


The talented Minnesota sophomore defenseman will be a key part of the Gophers' national championship aspirations this season. The team went farther than most people expected in making the Frozen Four last season, but this year the expectations will be through the roof. A lot of talent returns, and the Gophers are bringing in one of the most talented recruiting classes in the nation.


The incoming class included wunderkind Phil Kessel, who is not draft eligible, as well as last year's No. 5 overall pick in the draft, Blake Wheeler. Add to that two top names that are part of this year's draft, goaltender Jeff Frazee and left wing Ryan Stoa.


"This year there's a little more pressure to win. I think it's good for us," Hagemo said.


The thing all of these recruits have in common is their association with the U.S. national program in Ann Arbor. Hagemo, like Kessel, is already a prominent member of that program, having participated in last year's World Junior tournament. It was there that he had to deal with the world's best players at his age level, including this year's soon-to-be No. 1 pick, Sidney Crosby of Canada, and last year's top two picks, Russians Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Malkin.


"They're good players. They really like to stir the pot on the ice," said Hagemo. "They're special though. They know what they're doing out there."


Hagemo would figure to be on this year's World Junior team again. He leaves for that camp, in Lake Placid, on August 5.


"You've got to go and do your job. It's not like you can just go and screw around and be on the team again."


Following up the 2004 gold-medal team was not an easy task last year. The team got to the medal round, but lost two games and came home with nothing.


"We were so close," said Hagemo. "In those tournaments you've got to be at the top of your game for every game. We had a couple slip ups and it cost us a medal. We should've won a medal last year, and we have a great chance this year."


Nothing beats the experience of playing on a stage as big as the World Juniors, but for players like Hagemo, they also know they will be tested night in and night out during the college season. That's the beauty of playing in a league like the WCHA, which is stacked with talent.


"It's pretty incredible. You play Denver one week, then, 'Oh geez, it's CC at home,' and now Wisconsin. It really keeps you at the top of your game. It showed at the end, being in that level of competition all year."


It's that quality which also would give Hagemo pause to leaving Minnesota. Why leave early and play in the minors when he is already getting tested in college?


"As of now I plan on staying at the U for four years," Hagemo said. "Whether that will change, I'm not sure. But the good thing is, every year you know it's not like you're going to be so much higher above everyone (skill-wise) where you should be in the show (instead). In this league, there's always great players coming in."


All of this talk is premature, of course, until Hagemo and his compadres see the results of the draft. He expects to be in contact with Stoa and Frazee during the day, to see how each other made out.


"Maybe I'll get them to come out and have a foursome with me."



Adam Wodon is a studio analyst for CSTV's coverage of college hockey.




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