June 4, 2014
Tonight, when Carl Hagelin suits up for the New York Rangers in game one of the Stanley Cup Finals, it will be another proud moment for the many Michigan ice hockey fans who embraced the Swedish-born star from the moment he stepped on campus. But how was Michigan so fortunate to land Hagelin, a relative unknown in recruiting circles as a teenager?
From the outside, Carl Hagelin's journey to the University of Michigan seemed unlikely. In 2007, the Wolverines hadn't had a European-born player on their roster in 15 years, and Hagelin played junior hockey in his native Sweden for Sodertalje SK, with the most likely next step a spot on a team in the Swedish Elite League. Some look back and view Hagelin's commitment to Michigan that summer as a coup for the Wolverines.
But Hagelin was different than most kids in his position. His father, Boris, went to college at Western Michigan and had cousins in the Ann Arbor area. Boris Hagelin wanted to expose Carl and his older brother Bobbie to college hockey and the United States at an early age.
And how did he plan to do so? By planning visits to Ann Arbor with Bobbie in 1998 and again with both Carl and Bobbie in 2001 to attend the Red Berenson Hockey Camp. The memories of the Hagelin family's first visits to Michigan remain for head coach Red Berenson and assistant coach Billy Powers.
The following is an oral history of Carl Hagelin's journey to Michigan:
Assistant Coach Billy Powers: We were fortunate that his dad had the foresight to bring him over for the hockey school as a youngster, which is where it all started.
Carl Hagelin (As told to MGoBlue.com in 2007): My dad went to Western Michigan University, and he loved the University of Michigan. We still have cousins in Ann Arbor as well. He took my brother to hockey camp here when I was nine and my brother was 13. When I turned 12 I had the opportunity to go to camp too.
Head Coach Red Berenson: While Boris was here, he and his wife and their daughter, they'd go out to dinner every night, and they always went to Outback Steakhouse. They loved it. Mel (Pearson) also helped them pick places to play golf, because they loved to play. We got to know Boris pretty well.
Powers: It's interesting enough -- with some kids you remember things. I remember when Mike Cammalleri came in; he stuck out in many ways. I do remember Carl, because we spent some time with the family, and his older brother was here too. He was a tiny little thing that skated crazy fast, but he hadn't honed in many of the skills in his game as he continued to progress. He was a dynamite skater as a little guy, and he had a boatload of energy.
Berenson: Bobbie, Carl's older brother, was the noted player. Carl was the younger kid. Bobbie ended up being a really good defenseman, and he played in Sweden in the elite pro league. But Boris had decided that he wanted Carl to go to school in the United States.
Powers: It was an interesting experience for us, because Carl's dad came, and we had a boy named Markus Forsberg, whose father, Peter, is now the head of the Swedish hockey federation. We got to know the families quite well. It was a really good cultural thing for us, and it was pretty unique because we hadn't had anyone from overseas come to the hockey school. So it left an impression on you, that they were good people.
Back in Sweden, Hagelin began his junior career in 2005 with Sodertalje SK, where he began to blossom as a prospect. He finished second on the team in scoring with 21 points (9G,12A) in 27 games and took his game to another level in the postseason, with 22 points in 18 games.
At that point, Hagelin began to draw interest from several college programs in the United States. Michigan kept tabs on Hagelin and learned that Boris and Carl would return to Michigan in the summer of 2006 for an NAHL tryout camp held at Ferris State.
Hagelin: The Bemidji State coach called me and talked to me about college. I didn't really know that much, and then I talked to my dad about it, and he said, 'Go for it if you have the opportunity.' I started talking to Michigan (in 2006). I had met the U-M coaches when my brother and I were at camp. We talked to them again and they watched me.
Powers: Mel Pearson went up to see that tournament because we had stayed in touch with Carl's dad. His dad said, 'We want Carl to go to school,' and so we knew there was interest. Boris made us aware that they would be in northern Michigan playing. Mel drove up to see him, and he only got to watch him play one game up there. But we had a history with the family and kept an eye on what he was doing. He was doing well in the J-20 league in Sweden. He was on the radar for the NHL Draft. Even though he was a late bloomer, I think Carl would tell you he continued to develop. So Carl and his dad came down for a visit, and we offered him an opportunity. Thankfully he always wanted to come to Michigan.
Berenson: Mel saw him in Big Rapids, and he was really impressed with his work ethic and his hustle. We didn't know about the rest of his game. We talked to Carl and his dad and slowly worked it out. Carl looked at a couple other schools, but I think he liked Michigan from day one. He really wanted to come here. He was a late recruit. It was some time in the summer (of 2006) when we found out that Carl was coming.
Hagelin: I had some other offers, but you can't compare U of M to other schools, both academically and athletically. It was exciting (to visit Michigan for a hockey game). It was awesome when everyone sang the fight song. I was like, I want to play here.
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers, Hagelin quickly impressed his new teammates in Ann Arbor during summer conditioning drills. He routinely won races up the steps of the Big House and continued to impress on the ice as the Wolverines prepared for the 2007-08 season. A left wing for the Wolverines, Hagelin quickly became a fan favorite for his speed and work ethic. He was an impact player immediately, recording 22 points (11G, 11A) and 31 points (13G, 18A) in his first two seasons at Michigan.
Powers: When you look at Carl's first two years here, he created a lot based on his speed and his tenacity, but he didn't have a lot of finish. I know Red was constantly talking to him about slowing things down a little bit, telling him you have a little more time than you think. That was a big focus for him was to get him to understand that and to relax a little more with the puck.
Berenson: He was so coachable and so eager to do well here. He just fit in and right from day one was a good player. He improved his confidence with the puck and his confidence in making plays and finishing around the net here. He had a lot of speed, but the puck couldn't keep up to Carl. After a while he got to be more confident with the puck and more patient with it, and we see it even more now in the NHL. His bread and butter was his work ethic and his speed.
Powers: His entire junior and senior year, you started to see him making the similar offensive plays that he's making now in the National Hockey League. That was a great part of his growth here was that you got to witness it. He was a good player his freshman and sophomore year, but he became a great player in his junior and senior year.
Hagelin led the team in scoring as a junior (19-31-50) and a senior (18-31-49). He served as an alternate captain in 2009-10 when U-M won the CCHA Tournament. He was a co-captain for the 2010-11 squad that captured the CCHA regular-season title and finished as the NCAA Tournament runner-up. In 2011, Hagelin was named an Old Time Hockey West All-America second team honoree, the CCHA Best Defensive Forward, an All-CCHA first teamer and a finalist for the CCHA Player of the Year.
Hagelin is in his third NHL season with the New York Rangers and had his most productive goal-scoring season (17) despite missing most of October with a shoulder injury. He made his first Olympic appearance in February at the 2014 Sochi Games, winning a silver medal with Sweden. He has enjoyed a breakout postseason with the Rangers, recording 10 points (6 G, 4 A) in the playoffs, including three points (2G, A) in the eastern conference final against Montreal.
Berenson: He's doing all the things in New York that he did here. But the one thing he's doing there is that he's shown the ability to play with really good players. Whether its playmaking or getting open for them, his offensive game has really gone to another level. Carl has had some really good experiences to build on.
He played for a national championship here. He's played for CCHA playoff championships. He played in the Olympics in big games this year. I think this is another step for him. Now I know it's the Stanley Cup, but it's just another seven game series. I think if it's an endurance contest, he has a chance to be a difference maker because of his speed and his conditioning. He just has that extra step, and he's in top shape. Once he gets the jitters out in those first couple of shifts, he'll be good to go. He might be playing his best hockey this time of year.