Sun Chronicle: Northeast Generals’ Nagle eats, sleeps, breathes hockey

Northeast Generals’ Nagle eats, sleeps, breathes hockey

By Peter Gobis

ATTLEBORO — Heading in from his South Shore home in Weymouth most every day, Joe Nagle can’t wait to get to his home away from home, the New England Sports Village.

Now in his fourth season with the Northeast Generals, the elite junior hockey program competing in the North American Hockey League, Nagle just might be the best defenseman in the league.

Nagle just might also be the best captain that the Generals have ever had in their brief four-year NAHL history.

“Joe Nagle is hands down the best shut down ‘D’ man I have ever had the pleasure of coaching,” said Northeast Generals’ coach Bryan Erikson. “His brain is two steps ahead of everyone on the ice and his skating ability is off the charts.

“He sees the ice incredibly well and makes great outlet passes and allows his wingers to make plays based on giving them the puck in a perfect spot.

“He has been with us for four years now and I am so proud that I get to coach him every day. He is a great player but an even better kid!”

The adage is that Nagle could skate before he could walk. His dad, Joe Sr., played hockey at Weymouth High (class of ‘76) and at Boston State and his elder brother, Jack, also played hockey at Archbishop Williams and later at Worcester State and Assumption.

“Hockey was always in our blood, I was always at the rink, going to my older brother’s games, and my dad was my youth coach growing up,” Nagle said. “I was always on the bench watching my dad coach his teams and helping out with all of the equipment.

“I was 6 or 7 years old when I played in my first hockey game and I’ve never ever gotten tired of coming to the rink to play hockey, I’ve always loved it,” he said. “I was always at the rink. I was a rink rat!”

The 20-year-old Nagle is the Generals’ eighth-leading scorer, with 3 goals and 15 assists. He’s the third highest point producer among defensemen. This season, Nagle had a four-assist game against Maine and scored the game-winning goal, in overtime no less, against Maryland.

Notably, through nearly three dozen games for the Generals this season Nagle — no stranger to the physical demands of being a defenseman — has only 22 penalty minutes. In truth, Nagle has just 42 penalty minutes over his past 72 appearances on the ice for Northeast.

The Generals are three games under .500, sitting sixth the NAHL’s Eastern Conference with half the season remaining to be played and a third straight playoff berth in the offing.

Nagle played in the Boston Advantage program from the Pee Wee level to the Under-16 and Under-18 programs since the 2013-14 seasons.

“After eighth grade, I just focused on hockey,” Nagle said of putting his baseball glove in the closet.

He found his way to Commerce Boulevard for 12 games late in the 2016-17 season with the Generals.

In his first full-time season with the team, 2017-18, Nagle played in 51 games with one goal and 10 assists. Last season, he scored two goals and was credited with 15 assists in 41 appearances.

“He comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face determined to outwork everyone else,” Erikson said. “He is a workhorse and plays almost half the game for us as he is on our top power play unit, kills all of our penalties and often gets matched up against opposing teams’ top lines.

“We ask a lot of him and that is because he is so responsible in all three zones. He handles anything we throw at him.

“It’s why he is captain. His teammates love him and he demands greatness and hard work from everyone because that is what he demands of himself every day. He is going to make a (NCAA) Division I school very happy next year.”

To get from the family home in Weymouth to Attleboro, Nagle takes the familiar route — Route 3 to 93 and then 95.

“I’ve learned not to leave at the wrong time!” he said. “It’s been nice living at home, not having to move away, get home-cooked meals, to be comfortable.”

Nagle’s efficiency and effectiveness can be traced to his skating skills, and also being instructed at the Joe Lovell Hockey School.

“They made my stride the way that it is,” Nagle said. “For some kids, skating comes natural. But, it’s a lot of repetition. I was a pretty good skater, but I had to fix a lot of things.

“Just things like having a longer stride, proper movement with your hands, little stuff that makes you faster and better as a skater.”

Having played for Lovell in years past, it was a natural fit for Nagle to follow Tim Lovell to Attleboro when the latter took control of the Generals’ player development. Nagle had considered other NAHL teams, “but Joe and his brother Tim ran the (Boston) Advantage Hockey program, so that was the connection. I was definitely going to play in the league, but once Joe and Tim began with the Generals, I came to Attleboro.”

Nagle has followed the family roots as a defenseman, too. There have been endless family discussions on what it takes to meet the demands of the position and how to incorporate individual hockey skills into team success.

“My dad always had me pride myself on my defense,” Nagle said. “My dad never judged my game on if I scored a goal or got a point. He judged me on my defensive stops, good outlet passes, and if I did my job to help the team.”

Nagle had played a forward position in summer leagues, but says he “always loved defense. It came natural to me. I loved the feeling of breaking people up!”

Standing 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 185 pounds, Nagle is not an imposing physical specimen on the ice. In truth, he styles his game to that of a similar-size Boston Bruin, Torey Krug.

“I feel like it’s a reward if you don’t let another really good player on another team score a goal,” Nagle said. “If you can shut down the best player that’s more rewarding than just scoring a goal.”

Even if the other reward was a pretzel and hot chocolate purchased by his dad for him at the rink’s concession stand.

“Being a smaller guy, you can still play physical,” Nagle said. “I’m not going to throw an open ice hit, but I finish my hits. I pride myself on my angles and my puck movement.

“Playing the angles is huge now in the game of hockey because everyone has so much skill and speed. Being able to angle a guy off the wall is huge — it takes a lot of practice, working on your pivoting.”

During his youth hockey days, Nagle was always watching what the older kids were doing, especially when they played defense.

“My dad was always coaching older kids, so I’d be there on the bench watching those kids, watching college hockey, watching the NHL — I’m a big Boston Bruins fan.

“I love Krug because he’s similar to my height, the same build — I try to emulate my game around him.”

True to form, Nagle is on his eighth hockey stick of the season, shattering almost one a week.

In truth, being of smaller stature can be an advantage for a defenseman, according to Nagle. “You have a lower center of gravity, you can slip off of guys. There are pros and cons to it, but a lot of it goes back to being a good skater.”

Nagle coaches two teams in the Boston Advantage program, one as a head coach and another as an assistant coach. One program is for 12-year-olds, the other for 11-year olds.

“I run the practices and it’s cool being on the other end of it. You don’t realize how hard it is to become a good hockey player until you start trying to teach it,” Nagle said. “Sometimes it can even help my game, even if the kids are so much younger. I can go back and watch video of myself and say, ‘I should have done that.’

“It’s awesome getting to help some kid that might be struggling with something and using whatever I’ve learned to help him — it’s cool.”

In his final season of NAHL competition, Nagle has yet to commit to a Division I, II or III college. He may opt to take a Division III offer as a “safety” while talks with Division I colleges progress.

“From talking to Bryan (Erikson) and Tim (Lovell), there’s a good chance that I’m going to be a Division I player,” Nagle said.

Wearing jersey No. 5 with the blue, orange and white General colors, Nagle is the top defenseman playing at the New England Sports Village.

“The NAHL is a great league,” Nagle said. “The NAHL is very system-oriented, compared to other leagues. It’s really fast. Compared to the USHL it’s more defensive.

“It helps me because I know if I’m going to play Division I in college, I’m not going to be running the power play. I’m not going to be a star player on the team — I’m going to be a role player. The league helped me learn the little things that I have to do, to keep hockey simple.

“It’s definitely not simple, but we like to say it.

“Hockey is such a special sport because it’s team-oriented. Being a good hockey team is focused on that five-man unit. You’re not going out with the same five guys every time so you have to be a tight-knit group to have success.

“Hockey is a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it. When I look back on these years, I’ll definitely cherish these moments — coming to the rink every day, hanging out with the guys — something I’ve always been doing.”