This weekend is the NCAA Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minnesota. Leading up to this weekend's events, we're chatting with one player from each of the teams involved. For our last interview, we spoke with Carl Hagelin of the University of Michigan.
Michigan co-captain Carl Hagelin's first experience with the Wolverines program happened when he was 11 or 12. Accompanying his older brother Bobbie to the Red Berenson Hockey Camp one summer, Hagelin found himself bored sitting in the dorms. But being around the team at the time, he saw how professionally they carried themselves and saw up front the legend that is Red Berenson.
Those two things would later help Hagelin in making the decision to go to school in Ann Arbor.
A few months before he landed at Michigan, Hagelin was a sixth-round pick of the New York Rangers at the 2007 NHL Draft. In his four years with the Wolverines, Hagelin, the first Swedish player to play for the program, led the team in points the last two years and was named co-captain this season.
We spoke with Hagelin last week about his decision to leave Sweden for Ann Arbor, being a three-time All-Scholar Athlete, choosing between soccer and hockey, and his legendary status among the Yost Ice Arena faithful. Enjoy.
Q. Coming over from Sweden as an 18-year old kid ... were you nervous? Excited? Scared?
HAGELIN: I think it was probably a mix of that. I didn't think too much about it until I was on the flight over, so I got more and more nervous as I got closer to the U.S. The first year was a learning lesson, trying to learn the language, the culture. I tried to be around the guys. I didn't talk very much back then, I talk more now.
I was excited too to get away from home, live on my own. I've been very fortunate to have my mom and dad here for a lot of our games. That's obviously helped out a lot. The guys on the team have been great. I don't regret anything that I've done and obviously made a great decision coming here instead of staying back home.
You played some soccer growing up. When it came time for you to make your decision, why did you choose hockey as the one you wanted to pursue further?
I just had more fun playing hockey. I had more friends on my hockey team than I did on my soccer team. I might have been better at soccer to be honest. But I think it was more the friendship and my family was more of a hockey family than a soccer family, so when I had to make a decision I tried hockey and it turned out to be a good decision.
You've been a three-time CCHA All-Scholar athlete. How do find the balance in being an elite college athlete as well as an elite student?
Freshman year was kind of tough, because I didn't know the language perfectly, but that probably taught me a lot ... that I had to spend a lot of time studying, but at the same time I feel like if you show up to class everyday, make sure you don't miss any of it, and you have good communication with your professors you should have a good chance of doing well. It's all about how much you care and I think a lot guys on the team, they care and myself included. I wouldn't come here to play college hockey if I didn't care about school. For me, it was a no-brainer to work hard in the classroom as well as on the ice.
What is it about the Michigan program that helps players reach the next level of hockey development?
I think coach has been here so long he knows everything there is to know about the game. He played it at a very high level. He was a great player and then he coached in the NHL. He just knows what it takes. He's always on us about details and at the same time he talks a lot about doing the right things off the ice as well. You come in as a child and they want to make you a man. Just all of his experience and assistant coach Mel [Pearson] and Billy [Powers] are also doing great jobs developing us.
There was a pretty big group of family and friends at The Big Chill for you. How crazy was that to try and get tickets for everyone?
It was crazy. Each player got four tickets and I had 20 people coming, so I had to buy a few tickets. But they all had a great time and it was probably the most fun they had watching a sporting event. I was very fortunate to be in that game, especially come out with the win.
What was your experience like in that game with the huge crowd, the atmosphere inside the stadium and trying to get a big win over a rival at the same time?
It was incredible. Stepping on the ice for the warmups there was probably 15,000 in the stands. Then you go in the locker room again and come out 20 minutes after and it's 110,000 people screaming at you and just cheering for you. Then the fact that we got that first goal and played a really strong game. They didn't have much and we capitalized on our chances. It was an unbelievable experience that I'll never forget.
Take me back to the first game of the tournament and that 10-minute review against Nebraska-Omaha in overtime. How agonizing was that wait before it was deemed a goal?
I think we all kind of had a feeling that the puck was in, but we knew it would be tough for the ref to see from the overhead that the puck was actually crossing the line since it was underneath his pad. We knew what happened last year, so we were all expecting the worst and if they wouldn't have called it a goal, we would have just kept going. I think we were playing well there at the end of the third and in the beginning of the OT, so I don't think we were too nervous.
Having only lost consecutive games twice all season, what can you attribute to that level of consistency?
We've been playing better on Saturday's than Friday's first of all. But I think anytime we lose a game we really want to show up the day after and play a lot better. You're wearing that Michigan "M", you don't want to embarrass yourself or the program. Any time you have a bad game you want to come out the day after and play better. It comes down to every player wanting to improve every day. We have a strong group of guys here and we're always excited stepping on the ice.
You haven't played North Dakota at all this season. What do you about their team?
We know they're a high scoring team. They have a lot of great players and at the same time they don't give up much. They're obviously the favorites, but we want to go in and play well defensively and hopefully have a chance.
You've been a huge fan favorite at Yost Arena and the fans gave you a giant signed Swedish flag after your last game. What has it been like to not only be the first Swedish player in the program's history, but also the huge amount of support you've received from the fans?
It's been great, especially after my first two years I didn't do that much offensively, then they started recognizing me more my junior year when I got a few goals.
Seeing the flag up there, it's very special. It's probably not going to happen again, but over these four years I've been very fortunate to play at Yost Ice Arena with the best fans. Even when we play at Joe Louis, I like playing at Yost more than Joe Louis you know, when both are packed.
Your good buddy Louie Caporusso was in a funny video for a Valentine's Day promotion Michigan did. Have his acting abilities helped him at all with the ladies?
Oh yeah. He's been doing well lately. We all think he should, if hockey doesn't turn out the way he wants to or after his hockey career is over he should probably go into acting. I think he can for sure see himself having a 20-year career there as well.
The girls recognize that and since then he's been more confident.