Monica Nagle is the self-proclaimed “worst secret keeper ever.” So when her husband, Phantoms goaltender Pat Nagle, told her USA Hockey had called to tell him he made the Olympic hockey roster, she held out for less than a day. Pat was hesitant to tell anyone until he saw it on paper, but Monica insisted he tell his mother.

They FaceTimed his parents that night and broke the news. His mother, June, burst into tears.

“She was a crying mess when she found out,” her husband, Lyle, said with a laugh. “I can’t believe it.”

The family jokes that June cried more about the Olympics than she did for the birth of her first grandchild (June claims she cried for both). But most of them thought that the news Pat and Monica called to share had to do with June’s grandchildren.

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“I think a lot of people thought we were pregnant again,” Monica said. “Which is crazy. No way. I can’t have three under 3. No way.”

Pat’s children are too young to grasp the significance — his son Bryson is 2, and his daughter Sloan is 10 months old — but one day they will, and Pat is happy to have such a legacy to leave them.

Coolest equipment of all

Pat and Monica can’t blame their loved ones for being so shocked he was named to Team USA — it wasn’t even on their own radars.

Pat started the year in the ECHL (the third tier of professional hockey in the United States) with Reading before getting called up to the AHL by the Phantoms. Usually, players in the AHL are simply hoping to make the NHL. As a 34-year-old journeyman goalie who had played only 40 career games in the AHL before this season, Nagle’s chances of even being called up by an NHL team on an emergency basis were slim. The Olympics? No shot.

Even after the NHL announced it was pulling out of this year’s Games because of the “profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events,” Pat and Monica were unaware the Olympics were a possibility. His parents saw a blog post that listed Pat as one of the AHL goalies without an NHL contract who could go, and they were shocked that he was even mentioned. Every year, the two of them would talk about how they just hoped Pat would make another team so he could keep playing the game he’s loved since he came home at 4 years-old asking for $5 to sign up for hockey.

At that time, Lyle was playing on an over-30 hockey team in Michigan, but Pat didn’t even know how to skate. When they pointed this out to Pat, he said that it was OK because their next-door neighbor, Paul Woods, who had played for the Detroit Red Wings, would teach him.

As Pat got more involved with the sport, he became enamored with the equipment, his parents recall. And goalies had the coolest equipment of all. So he decided to become a goalie.

“I laugh now because I just think of what a poor decision it was back then, why my parents let that happen,” Pat said. “But the more I hear about it, it was something I really wanted to do and really enjoyed.”

His parents initially told him no, so he went to his grandparents, his aunts and uncles and even his school guidance counselor. Both parents, but especially June, wanted him to pursue baseball. Lyle said Pat was a three-time All-County pitcher without ever trying. But Pat loved hockey, and they wanted him to be happy, so they found a way for him to play.

The unlikeliest Olympian

The path wasn’t easy — “definitely been cut plenty of times over the years,” Pat said — and it looked like his journey would come to an end after high school. But his parents gave him one year in the North American Hockey League with the St. Louis Bandits to earn a scholarship and he did, to Ferris State in Michigan. He was an All-American his senior year and later signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That was just the beginning. Since then, Pat has been on NHL contracts, AHL contracts, and ECHL contracts. He has signed one-year deals with the knowledge that if he doesn’t rise to the challenge, his career might be over. He has played in major markets as well as non-hockey markets and traveled across the country. Since leaving college in 2011, Pat has been with 14 teams across the AHL and EHL, bouncing between glamorous cities like Boise, Fort Wayne, Stockton, Toledo, and Utica. His parents, who have liked Monica since the moment they met her, worried the crazy life would scare her off.

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But at 34 years old, with a wife and two children, he’s still getting paid to play hockey.

Ahead of the 2021-22 season, he joined the Reading Royals and on Nov. 20 got called up by the Phantoms. He won three of his first four games and once Team USA came calling, coach Ian Laperrière sang Nagle’s praises.

“When you go to a short tournament like they’re going to go to, you can’t have bad people around you,” said Laperrière. “And he’s the furthest thing of being a bad guy. … When you do have a goalie like that who battles behind you, you’re just going to battle harder in front of him.”

As the phone calls increased and Team USA scouts started showing up to games, Nagle began to realize he could actually make the team. However, he didn’t know how many goalies were under consideration.

“Even that was just a really nice compliment to even be in the mix,” Nagle said. “And then obviously once I got the phone call that I was going to be invited, that’s when it really kind of hit home.”

Laperriére is excited to see Nagle head to Beijing, even it means the Phantoms will be down a goalie.

“Especially towards the end of his career, everything he’s done, he’s 34, he’s going to be 35 years old soon, it’s just a great experience,” Laperriére said. “Yes, you’re a little bit disappointed because it hurts your team. But on the other hand, you’re just happy because he’s such a great teammate, and he deserves all the success in the world.”

Laperriére said the entire team can’t wait to watch Nagle perform on the biggest stage.

“He really pushed us forward,” Phantoms teammate Isaac Ratcliffe said. “This is a crazy opportunity for him. We’re all so supportive, we’re all so psyched that he’s getting this opportunity and best of luck to him.”

People from every organization Nagle has played for have reached out since the news broke. Nagle said it’s a reflection of how long his career has been, but his parents see it as a testament to the people he has impacted along the way. That is what they are most proud of.

Many of those family and friends were set to fly to Pennsylvania to join the Nagles as they watched Pat walk in Friday’s Opening Ceremony. That’s when June and Monica figured it would really sink in.

“It’s beyond anything that I could have thought for him,” Monica said. “I just really love watching Pat succeed and do well. You know, more recently, be the underdog. I love his story. I love how hard he works. And I love watching him play.”

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