These days, Kyle Hagel is pursuing two NHL dreams.
The 28-year-old Portland Pirates defenceman still hopes to play in the big league. At the same time, he and former minor-pro teammate Dustin Sproat are attempting to get their mobile technology application, known as Shnarped Hockey, to become a part of life for hockey's elite.
"The (two) hockey parts of my life are just kind of fighting the same battle of trying to get (to the NHL)," said Hagel, a Hamilton native who was never drafted and plays on an AHL contract.
Hagel and Sproat, a 31-year-old from Red Deer, Alta., helped their cause when they appeared on a recent episode of the CBC TV show Dragons' Den. In a rare move, all five Dragons pledged to invest a total of $250,000 in return for a third of their Vancouver-based company. The duo only sought $100,000 in exchange for 10 per cent of the firm.
Shnarped, named after a card game that hockey players often play while riding the bus on a road trip, enables fans to send online fist pumps, known as pounds, to players for a good goal or effort. Players and fans can also send messages to each other in what's described as a safe setting, without being subject to the public glare of Twitter and other social media, and also get news and stats on players and teams.
"I'm just trying to enjoy the process," said Hagel. "It might seem like a cliche, but I enjoy going to work every day here in the American League and trying to get better as a hockey player so I can give myself a better opportunity to make it up there (in the NHL).
"And in terms of Shnarped, it's pretty much the same thing."
One Dragon, Boston Pizza baron and franchising mogul Jim Treliving, has already finalized an investment agreement with Shnarped and is working on connecting Hagel and Sproat with his contacts in the NHL and other sports leagues.
Approximately 350 players at all levels use Shnarped. The 80 NHLers active with it include Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Matt Moulson of the Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher, a teammate of Hagel during the NHL lockout with the Hamilton Bulldogs last season.
"(Hagel) explained to (Bulldogs players) what Shnarped was all about," said Gallagher. "And being the type of person he was, we trusted him and wanted to check it out for ourselves.
"Ever since then, I've been hooked on it between Montreal and Hamilton."
Gallagher touts Shnarped among his peers and communicates with fans and friends weekly while also using it to keep track of players toiling in the NHL and lower leagues.
"It gives fans an opportunity (to contact players) that they wouldn't usually have," he said. "As players, it's pretty cool for us (communicating with fans), too."
Hagel, who began his career with the ECHL's Reading Royals in 2008-09 and has also played for Fresno and Las Vegas in the ECHL and Rockford and Peoria in the AHL, said Shnarped provides recognition for minor-leaguers that don't receive a lot of glory.
"Sometimes, the most superficial things are the goals, assists and points that show up on a game sheet," said Hagel, who has 29 career goals and 714 penalty minutes in 248 career regular-season games in the AHL and ECHL. "But players on the team, they're looking at tremendous efforts. Some players, a lot of times, go unnoticed on the stats sheet, blocking shots or finishing checks or just protecting the puck in the corner.
"They're good things, but aren't necessarily quantifiable by way of statistics."
Meanwhile, he, Sproat and the company's third co-founder, Kamil Sikorski, who built the technology, hope the "Dragons' Den" appearance and recent praise for Shnarped will spell more business opportunities at the NHL level.
Currently, Shnarped Hockey relies on sponsorship as its main revenue stream, but Sproat said the company plans to generate more income through licensing agreements with NHL teams and other organizations that would allow them to use the Shnarped pound on their mobile applications.
Sproat is also hopeful that Treliving's connections in hockey and other sports will pay off. Treliving sits on the board of the Hockey Canada Foundation and owns the Quad City Mallards of the Central Hockey League. His son Brad is the assistant general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes.
"I love to invest in people, and the guys running Shnarped are top-notch," Treliving said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press. "Shnarped is at a tipping point, and the abilities these guys have, combined with the exposure on Dragons' Den and any connections I can help them with, should set us up to grow rapidly.
"Shnarped is great because it gives young kids a way to interact with their idols on the ice; and at Hockey Canada, we're always looking for more ways to get young kids excited about the sport."
Another Dragon, fiery financial guru Kevin O'Leary, has helped Hagel and Sproat connect with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to expand Shnarped to the NBA.
"The reason we went on the show was for PR purposes mainly, and we were able to get some investment," said Sproat.
Hagel and Sproat got the idea for the Shnarped technology while developing the Hockey Players for Kids literacy program. Players had trouble staying in touch with the program's youngsters due to changes in teams and email addresses.
The company plans to give significant portions of their company's profits to charity when the business is more established.
While Hagel pursues two NHL dreams, Sproat is pursuing one with Shnarped now. Never drafted, he and Hagel were teammates briefly with the Fresno Falcons in 2008-09, before the club folded in mid-season. After that they started skating on separate paths.
Sproat spent most of an interrupted career, which started in 2005-06 and ended in 2010-11, in the ECHL with the Reading Royals, Fresno and Cincinnati Cyclones. He had a four-game spin with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL and played briefly in England with the Nottingham Panthers. He also took two years off to work as an engineer at an Alberta oilpatch.
The highlight of his pro career came when he won an ECHL title with Cincinnati in 2009-10.
"Which was an amazing experience for me, but it didn't get me a $2-million deal with the Oilers," Sproat jokingly lamented.
A consistent-scoring forward, he retired to obtain an MBA from UBC. But he resumed playing at the amateur level last season with the Alberta-based Bentley Generals and helped them win the Allan Cup.
That experience, which included scoring the winning goal on a penalty shot in the semi-finals, did not land an NHL contract, either.
But it helped expand Shnarped's reach — and his chances of future success off the ice.