|Carl Hagelin scored 55 points in 40 games last year in Sweeden's highly competitive U-20 league.
Judging by early results, freshman Carl Hagelin
has fit right in with the University of Michigan hockey team.
In his final exhibition game, against Western Ontario University, Hagelin scored a hat trick. In his first two weekends of regular-season action, he had two goals and an assist in four outings. Now, as he readies to join Team Sweden for the World Junior Championships, Hagelin has five goals and seven assists in 18 appearances.
While it is not unusual for a freshman to make an impact at Michigan – the club features a dozen freshmen this season – it is quite rare for one to hail from outside of North America.
As one of the top college programs, the Wolverines have the pick of the North American hockey litter and rarely have to look to distant shores for reinforcements. As a result, head coach Red Berenson has the luxury of being quite parochial in his pursuit of potential Wolverines.
Russian forward Anton Fedorov was one of the last European imports to wear the maize and blue, for a three-year stint beginning way back in 1991.
“It didn’t work out for Anton,” Berenson said. “He must have thought he was coming to a free country. But it wasn’t as free as Anton would have liked.”
Obviously, Fedorov – who played just 19 games in three seasons and managed just seven points – did not make much of an impression. Clearly, Hagelin is not planning to follow in Federov’s infamous skate strides.
Already he has been hailed by Berenson as one of Michigan’s hardest workers since the season opened. Plus, he clearly is a talented player.
He was selected by the New York Rangers in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, scored 55 points in 40 games last year in Sweden’s highly competitive U-20 league and already has made some appearances for the U-20 national team in his home country. Now, he is one of the linchpins of the team being sent to the Czech Republic for the World Junior Championships.
But perhaps most importantly, Hagelin wants desperately to play – and succeed – at the American college level.
“It's not a common thing for a Swedish player to go to the U.S. and play college hockey,” Hagelin acknowledged. “They don't even know the level college hockey is here. They think it is Swedish student hockey, but the level is so much better in the States.
“I mean, University of Michigan has, like, 40 drafted guys, and in Sweden, the Swedish junior league has, like, three guys. It's not the same type of game. There is a smaller ice here and more hits and it is more of a skill game in Sweden.”
It also is more of a North American pro game at the NCAA level, at least when compared to the Swedish Elite League. So the decision was easy for Hagelin, who has dreamt for years about playing in the NHL.
The decision to play college hockey may have been easy, but the execution was far more difficult, taking some bold moves from the player and some renewals of old acquaintances.
Two years ago, Hagelin got the college bug when he was contacted by Bemidji State. He decided that wasn’t the program for him, but he was intrigued about the possibility of playing college hockey somewhere.
“To combine school and hockey, that's not possible in Sweden,” Hagelin said. “You need to choose one thing. I felt I have always had it easy to go to school and get good grades. I felt this was the best thing for me to do. And the hockey is at a good level, too.”
Once he was committed to his plan, Hagelin became aggressive. He used his father’s network of North American friends to make contacts in the college-hockey community. Then he came to North America last year and basically held his own tryout by arriving on the doorstep of the Texarkana Bandits of the North American Hockey League and inviting college recruiters to take in the open tryout the Bandits were conducting.
But from the beginning, Berenson and the Wolverines had the inside track on Hagelin’s affection.
“When I was 11 until I was 13, I went to Red Berenson's hockey school,” Hagelin reveals. “Me and my brother (Bobby). I think my dad still had some contacts at Michigan and we have relatives in Ann Arbor. So I think that helped them say to Red, ‘Come see Carl and say what you think.’”
Clearly, the Michigan coaching staff liked what it saw, even if it was from an import. After all, they continually had been exposed to the benefits of talented Swedes in watching the local NHL team, the Detroit Red Wings.
“Not that we’re scouting or recruiting, but we watch the Red Wings a lot and (Henrik) Zetterberg is their best forward,” Berenson says. “(Nicklas) Lidstrom is their best defenseman. All their best players are Swedish.”
Now another Swede has a chance to be among Michigan’s best players. And neither he nor the university, could be happier.
“It's an awesome team and a great school,” Hagelin said before the season started. “I'm really looking forward to this adventure.”