The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, January 19, 2022 1:00 am

Former Komets goalie bound for Beijing

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Pat Nagle has never donned the red, white and blue colors of the United States national team. In the twilight of his professional hockey career, the former Komets goaltender, 34, didn't dream it was a possibility at this stage – certainly not in the Olympics.

But next month, in Beijing, China, Nagle will be one of the three netminders hoping to lead the US to its first gold medal since 1980.

“It's been great. It's pretty surreal. I'm not sure I appreciated enough how important, how big, it was,” said Nagle, whose phone has been blowing up since he was selected last week to be on the US roster, on the heels of the NHL deciding it wouldn't send its players because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I called my parents to let them know. I made that first phone call to say, 'Hey, I'm going to the Olympics.' That was pretty neat, just their reactions. Just going from there, you realize how much of an opportunity and what an honor it is.”

Nagle, who's from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, played for the Komets from 2014 to 2017. After the Komets opted not to re-sign him, Nagle landed with the rival Toledo Walleye from 2017 to 2020. He lost to the Komets in the 2018 division finals and beat them in the first round in 2019, when Toledo reached the Kelly Cup finals.

After spending the last three seasons in the NHL's Detroit Red Wings' system – he was 6-6-0 last season with a 2.78 goals-against average, a .892 save percentage and two shutouts for the American Hockey League's Grand Rapids Griffins – he's now in the Philadelphia Flyers' minor-league ranks.

“I've had a lot of ups and downs in my career, been in a lot of situations, and you hope those come together to pay off,” said Nagle, who is 5-0-3 with a 2.74 GAA and a .897 SP for the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms this season, also playing 12 games for the ECHL's Reading Royals. “We have a pretty talented team here. We've had a slow start, but there are a lot of skilled guys up front and a lot of high-end prospects. So you just hope being on the ice every day with them continues to push you to improve.”

Nagle's days of making the NHL are likely behind him, and sometimes he looks around the locker room and marvels at how young everyone else seems, but the pandemic has created unexpected opportunities – such as former Komets goalies Michael Houser and Zach Fucale having star moments in NHL games – and Nagle's getting his shot with the Olympic squad.

“You start seeing the birth dates of your teammates and it's hard to believe sometimes. It happens fast,” Nagle said. “I've been fortunate in my career, and this is year 11 of being pro, and this is going to be one of the major highlights in my hockey career. I'm pretty fortunate things worked out the way they did. Obviously, with the NHLers, this opened some doors and you just hope to go and take advantage.”

Around the time the NHL pulled out of the Olympics, Dec. 22, the national team began vetting Nagle by breaking down game film and having conversations with coaches and executives in the Flyers and Phantoms organizations, who had to be willing to part with him for almost a month.

“We didn't really know much then, like if it was a longshot or where you stood, or anything,” Nagle said. “It was just a blip on the radar and I thought, 'It's just nice to have my name mentioned at all or to possibly be in the mix.' Then a couple weeks ago, things ramped up.”

The other US goalies are Strauss Mann, who is in the Swedish Hockey League, and Boston University's Drew Commesso, though the depth chart isn't yet known. Another former Komets goalie, Roman Will, will play for the Czech Republic.

Olympic hockey can be different than what's played at Memorial Coliseum – namely a larger ice surface – and Nagle isn't sure yet how that will impact his style.

“It may depend on what team we're playing and if they use a North American style or if they play more of a European style,” Nagle said. “But at the end of the day, I just have to do my job and keep the puck out of the net. Hopefully we can get some goals at the other end and see what happens.”

The US placed seventh in 2018 at Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the Olympic Athletes of Russia took gold.

The pandemic has made safety a concern – only selected spectators will be allowed at games in Beijing – and Nagle said of it: “Fortunately, we have a great staff that's doing a lot of work behind the scenes to keep us safe and protected. Hopefully, it'll go smoothly.”

As someone who has watched plenty of Olympic athletes, Nagle is delighted he'll soon be among them.

“I've always enjoyed watching it over the years,” he said. “Just tracking it and getting to see the different countries. Especially the different sports, which is something that's unique about the Olympics. There are just so many talented athletes from around the world and it's pretty cool to see.”

Note: On Tuesday, the Komets released defenseman Bryan Etter, who was scoreless in four games.

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