Courtesy: Western Hockey League
Regina, Sask. – Tanner Nagel couldn’t have scripted a much better story for his 2017-18 Western Hockey League campaign.
Hailing from nearby Mossbank, Sask. – which happens to be situated nearly right between Swift Current and Regina (approximately 180 kilometres southeast of Swift Current and 140 km southwest of Regina) – Nagel was elated to find out he had been dealt to the Broncos from the Lethbridge Hurricanes as part of a blockbuster trade on January 9.
Having played his Bantam AA hockey as a member of the Swift Current AA Raiders from 2011-12 to 2012-13 and a girlfriend who calls Swift Current home, Nagel’s roots in the CHL’s smallest market run deep. Joining the Broncos and going on a run to the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship was nothing short of a dream come true.
“I love being close to home,” said Nagel, 20, during an off-day at the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup. “Family is a big part of my life.
“Winning a championship [in Swift Current], especially a WHL Championship, I have no words for it. It’s so awesome. I’m so grateful I got to do it in front of so many friends and family. It’s something I’ll keep with me forever.”
Though he may not be the first name, or even the second name that comes to mind when one thinks of a talented and deep Broncos roster, his role remains critical and that isn’t lost on head coach and director of player personnel Manny Viveiros.
“He’s been an outstanding kid,” Viveiros said. “He’s a kid that plays a role for us – he gets in on the forecheck, he blocks shots, he’s got a bit of a bite to him, a bit of a mean streak. He’s a kid that’s all in. You don’t get here without players like that. We always talk about the Heponiemis, Steenbergens, Gawdins – those type of players – but we’re not here without guys like Tanner Nagel. We’re so happy to have him.”
Broncos fans are notorious for travelling well, and Nagel has his own merry band of supporters chasing him around, particularly now that he is back in his home province.
Some folks in south Saskatchewan affectionately refer to Mossbank – a little town of only 360 people – as Nagelville. Rumour has it there are just that many Nagels in Mossbank, including Mayor Gregg Nagel, who happens to be Tanner’s grandfather.
Almost all of Nagelville… err, Mossbank… has made its way to Swift Current. Scooping up cowbells and Broncos jerseys, there is no shortage of family and friends cheering on Tanner and his group.
His parents, grandparents and his girlfriend’s family all bought Broncos season tickets when Tanner came home. Already in Swift Current were a great many friends Nagel had left behind following his bantam days – plenty of them had season tickets as well.
“For our hockey team, our ticket sales went right through the roof because he is from that area,” Viveiros said with a laugh. “He’s got a big family and a lot of friends there. I don’t know how many season tickets they bought in Swift Current.”
A return to the Land of Living Skies and the opportunity for Nagel to play in front of friends and family was presented just one day prior to the 2018 WHL Trade Deadline. After stops in Portland and Lethbridge, Nagel was on his way home, but not without valuable experience to apply with his new club.
“I started out in Portland when I was 17,” Nagel said. “That’s a very different place to play hockey, down in the States in a big, big area like that. I learned a lot out there, but I didn’t play many playoff games after we lost out in the first round.
“You learn a lot in that first year, watching the older guys and what they do.”
Tallying a modest 16 points (10G-6A) and 88 penalty minutes in 72 games with the Hurricanes during the 2016-17 WHL campaign, Nagel helped take Lethbridge to a WHL Eastern Conference Championship during the 2017 WHL Playoffs, notching four points (2G-2A) in 20 games.
“We learned a lot during that run, too – just about what it takes to get to that next level,” Nagel said. “This year, I could really be a big part of what we did here in Swift. With my role, being that grit guy, that depth guy, I could bring that to the team. I learned a lot about that on my journey through junior hockey so far. It’s been an unbelievable experience just to get to here and I’m so thankful for it.”
Nagel was named an alternate captain with the Hurricanes for the 2017-18 season, recognition of his lead-by-example, give-it-all approach on the ice. That asset made him all the more desirable as a valuable depth player when Viveiros was working to set the table for a run at the Ed Chynoweth Cup. While many headlines celebrated the arrival of Stuart Skinner and Giorgio Estephan, Nagel was a key piece to the transaction. His grit and leadership enabled him as a responsible presence in the team’s bottom six, a role he relished and contributed through greatly en route to winning a WHL title in the friendly and familiar confines of Swift Current’s Innovation Credit Union i-Plex.
If that wasn’t enough, Nagel now finds himself competing for a national title just down the highway in Regina – host of the 100th Mastercard Memorial Cup. Just as Nagelville followed Tanner to Swift Current, they’ve continued down the road to Regina to support their boy.
“It’s quite a thing to see all those people every night at every game,” Nagel said. “It’s awesome. I can’t even describe it.
“It’s unbelievable to be here. I’m very humbled and blessed to be here [at the Mastercard Memorial Cup]. It’s a lot of fun. It’s exciting. This is the biggest stage in junior hockey you could play in. I’m just so happy to be here.”
Opening night of the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup proved challenging for Nagel and the Broncos, as they dropped a 4-3 overtime decision to the QMJHL-champion Acadie-Bathurst Titan on Saturday night.
Monday arrives as a new day with a new outlook as Nagel, the Broncos and their Swift Current faithful hope for better fortunes against the OHL-champion Hamilton Bulldogs.
“We just have to stick to our game plan,” Nagel said. “We aren’t focused on what we did wrong [Saturday]. We’re just focused on what we’re going to do better [Monday night]. That’s what we’ve done all playoffs – learn from our mistakes, not be down on ourselves or dwell on what we did wrong.”
While the one-game-at-a-time approach remains paramount, Nagel has entertained the idea of winning a Memorial Cup championship in Regina. With his ties to the southern Saskatchewan, how could he not?
“It’s crossed my mind a little bit, obviously,” Nagel said. “I honestly don’t know how it would feel. I just know it would be unbelievable. That’s all I can really say on that.”
If Nagel and the Broncos hope to keep the dream alive, they will have to start by getting in the win column. Their next opportunity comes Monday night at 6 p.m. MT when they face the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs at the Brandt Centre in Regina.
Game 4 of the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup can be seen Monday, May 21 at 6 p.m. MT from coast-to-coast on Sportsnet