Nate Hagemo is on the comeback trail. He’s fighting for a roster spot with the Florida Everblades on the East Coast Hockey League. Its not the lowest or the low, as far as hockey leagues go, but its more than shouting distance away from the NHL. Hagemo is looking to be the hockey world’s Josh Hamilton-lite. He’s been neither as high as Hamilton’s highs, nor as low as his lows, but their paths have more than a few parallels.
Hagemo was a second round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He had represented the United States on the international scene at the junior level. He was a scholarship player at the University of Minnesota. Then he got hit awkwardly and suffered a shoulder injury. This wasn’t the typical hockey injury – a separation or a dislocation – it was nerve damage, specifically to the brachial plexus. He was left with weakness and numbness in his shoulder. He tried to make his way back, took a medical redshirt season with the Gophers, but was ultimately unsuccessful. He announced his retirement on October 3, 2006.
Similarly to Hamilton, Hagemo found himself at loose ends without the structure and discipline that his chosen sport had provided. Hagemo said, “For a time there, I felt like I just gave this up in one hit and all this is over. I had a lot of ‘poor me.'” In January of 2008, Hagemo found himself spending three days in jail when he was arrested in his car – parked in an area frequented by drug traffickers and in possession of syringes and other drug paraphernalia. In May, he was sentenced to three years probation after pleading guilty to a variety of offenses related to two traffic incidents. And at the end of June, Hagemo was arrested on suspicion of harassment and violation of a restraining order.
He admits he’s a work in progress. “All I can do right now is do the right thing and every day try to keep changing for the better and not go back to how things were.” Rest has allowed his shoulder injury to heal, and hockey has helped out this progress. His agent got in contact with the Carolina Hurricanes and Hagemo was invited to the team’s summer prospect conditioning camp – his first foray into competitive hockey in three years.
Hagemo isn’t Josh Hamilton. He’s battling his demons and is hopefully back on the right track. He doesn’t have to make it to the NHL. Cleaning up his act and flying straight for the remainder of his days would be a success story as well. Hagemo’s father thinks the same way, “What’s more important is that somebody is a good person and lives a good life. That’s what he’s striving to achieve. Sports is a part of that. It’s not who he is.”
In one of those weird coincidences that seem to abound in the sports world – Hagemo took his first steps back on the ice in Hamilton’s home town of Raleigh, North Carolina.