By Leif Skodnick
Special To ECHL.com
Perhaps one of the great truths of sports recruiting is that the player you set out to find is not always the player you end up with.
When Bakersfield Condors head coach Marty Raymond visited the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship tournament in Norway last year, he set out looking for a defenseman.
“I went to see the World Championship ‘B’ Tournament with Norway, Denmark, and Belarus over in Norway last April,” said Raymond, who played five seasons in the Swedish Elite League and two seasons in France before returning to North America to coach. “I was looking for a defenseman.”
Raymond found what he was looking for. Sort of.
The player he found was not a defenseman, but rather, a defensive-minded center, 23-year-old Lars Peder Nagel, who had played in his native Norway for IF Frisk Asker.
“He’s a smart, big, strong kid, and I asked him if he’d be interested in playing in America. He had some guys on his team in Norway who had played [in North America] and he was really pumped up about it.”
For Nagel, it wasn’t his first venture into North American hockey.
“I’ve been over here before, I played high school and junior hockey in Minnesota, and I was looking to move out of Norway,” said Nagel, who scored 31 points (14g-17a) in 40 games with Frisk Asker last season. “With the lockout pending, European clubs were looking for NHL players and it was hard to get a job there. I thought it was a nice offer [to come to Bakersfield] and a good place to build my skills.”
While there aren’t a lot of professional hockey players in North America from Norway, several prominent North Americans have gone to Norway for this season.
“There are six or seven NHL guys over there,” stated the Oslo, Norway native. “It made it a lot more even, because a lot of mid-skilled teams picked those guys up so now there are five contenders instead of two or three. It’s great for the fans.”
Thus far, Raymond has been extremely pleased with the center he found almost by accident.
Nagel, who is 6-4 and 205 pounds, has pleased Raymond with nearly every aspect of his game.
“He’s not an NHL prospect, but he can certainly play in the AHL,” said Raymond. “He’s not the fastest guy, but he’s so smart, he’s a great defensive center, he uses his big body and he’s got 13 goals already.”
Most of all, however, Raymond, who is in his second season at the helm of the Condors, is impressed with Nagel’s intelligence and preparation.
“He’s so smart. He is probably the smartest guy on our team. He’s always well prepared, we like to prepare our guys really well, and he’s already on top of things,” said Raymond. “If I have stuff I give [the Condors’ players] in the morning, like scouting reports, he’s got that stuff memorized. That’s the key to his game.”
While the Condors expected Nagel to be a defensive forward, his contributions to the offense have not gone unnoticed.
“I’ve gotten some lucky bounces that I didn’t get last year, but I wasn’t really recruited here to score,” said Nagel, who is tied for the Bakersfield team lead with 13 goals and 33 points while playing in all 36 games. “Being where I am is nice and it’s nice to exceed expectations. I am just happy to get the bounces and help the team out that way, and pick up the pace where I am supposed to and be a defensive center.”
Overall, Nagel has adjusted well to the North American game.
“The smaller rinks make the style of play a bit different. We try to go with direct passes and traps here, there’s more chips,” stated Nagel, who represented Norway in three World Junior Championships. “Here we hit a lot more and play physical and at home we anticipate more and try to outsmart the other team.”
His fellow players and the fans in Bakersfield have helped with his adjustment.
“I like the atmosphere in Bakersfield. I like the fans, they’re a big supportive crowd, they take care of us in and outside the rink, and we have a good group of guys on the team,” says Nagel, who is looking to advance his career. “I came here to help the team win and be an impact player. Like everyone else, I am trying to move up, but I am enjoying my time in Bakersfield,”
His coach certainly thinks that he can reach the next level.
“Eventually, he could play in the AHL,” said Raymond. “He has a good shot a playing at a higher level.”