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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

First ever Swedish hockey recruit makes Beacons debut

Axel+Haglind
Axel Haglind

For Axel Haglind, a freshman for the University of Massachusetts Boston Ice Hockey squad, his first visit to the Clark Center rink was an eye opening moment. He looked out over a clean sheet of ice with the lighthouse logo on it and was surprised with the scale of the University of Massachusetts Boston operation.
“It’s really big,” he said, “I’ve realized since I got to America how big college sports are here.”
Hagelin stepped off of a plane from his native Sweden into an arms race for ECAC East supremacy. The Beacons have been aggressively recruiting in an attempt to match up with rivals Babson and Norwich, and the 5’11, 190 pound defenseman is the program’s first ever Swedish recruit.
A native of that small town of Mariestad in the western part of the country, Haglind moved to a suburb of Stockholm eight years ago, before putting up huge numbers at Värmdö Gymasium High School. After his high school career he signed on to play junior hockey for the prestigious club, Nacka, where he caught the eye of American scouts, including coach Peter Belisle at UMass Boston.
In Sweden, hockey is a very proud tradition. In addition to supplying plenty of superstar talent to the NHL like Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Lundquist, and the Sedin brothers, young men start skating around the time that they learn how to walk, and the sport is engrained in the culture.
“Hockey is probably the most popular sport in Sweden,” Haglind said, “It’s natural for a boy to start playing hockey at a young age.”
The sports system in Sweden is structured slightly differently than it is in the United States. Even the best athletes are not able to play college sports, because intercollegiate athletics are not a part of the culture. Haglind knew that if he wanted to continue his education and keep playing the sport competitively he had to look at his options abroad.
“The opportunity to play the sport at a high level and get an education at the same time is not possible in Sweden like it is here,” Haglind said. “We don’t have college sports like this back home.”
Coach Peter Belisle saw the skill that Haglind had, and set out to recruit him. 
“We watched some video on him and we were impressed,” Belisle said. “He played in a really good established league over there so we knew he had potential.” 
When Coach Belisle reached out to Haglind about coming to Boston, the decision was easy, seeing as Boston was one of the only places he knew of in America.
“Boston was one of the few places I knew about in the states,” Haglind said, “when I heard that I had a chance to play for a school in Boston I accepted it.”
Hagelind comes from hockey-crazed Sweden with a European approach to the game that is refreshing for a team made up primarily of American players who may not have had exposure to the different style. There are plenty of differences between European hockey and the brand that’s played in America. In Europe, the game is played on an Olympic-sized rink and there is less emphasis on brute force because there is more room on the sheet to make passes and more creative plays.
“[The game] is faster and more physical here — more ‘north-south’ hockey. We also take more shots,” Haglind said.
“Obviously I’m a freshman and I need to find my place on the team. I think we play a different game back home and I can bring some of the elements from there to this club,” he added. “It’s really up to coach how he wants to use me. We have some different ways of moving the puck and setting up opportunities in Europe.”
Belisle has noticed the skill that Haglind brings to the table, but made sure to note that the young player still has some developing to do.
“He is very good with the puck but needs to work on his 1 on 1 play,” Belisle said. These guys right now are a bit bigger and stronger than him but once he catches up I think he can turn out to be a really nice player for us.”
For anyone coming to America for the first time from a foreign land, fitting in can be a challenge. Haglind said that he had not met another Swedish person since arriving in the States at the beginning of the semester. He did, however, say that his teammates on the Beacons have helped his transition go slightly more smoothly.
“It’s my first time living away from home in a new country,” Haglind said, “and the people that helped me get into life here are the hockey boys. They’ve been taking care of me since day one, I like it here a lot.”
Haglind knows that he’s breaking new ground as a Swede coming to play for the Beacons, but he also knows that the season will be a grind as the Beacons try to break new ground of their own and win an ECAC East title and possibly a National Championship. He echoes Belisle’s sentiments that the team will be a contender, and he has every reason to be optimistic. Some very talented freshmen are joining an intact core group with some serious offensive firepower. Zach Andrews and Billy Faust will be a sturdy combination between the pipes.
“I’m looking forward to [my first season],” Haglind said. “We’re here to win the conference, and I really think we have a bright future. With the guys we have on the team, we can go very far.”
With only a couple of weeks of practice under his belt, Haglind expects to need some time to adjust to the pace of the American game, but he’s also confident that he will be able to pick it up soon. He added that the Beacons have been tinkering with lines and defensive pairings at practice and will roll everything out when the season begins.
For someone that grew up hoping to play hockey at its highest level, moving the UMass Boston has been the realization of a life’s work for Haglind. The ECAC East is one of the most competitive conferences in the NCAA, and Haglind knows that playing in America will be a challenge, but it’s one that he’s wanted to take on for a long time.
“[Playing in America] is so exciting. I’ve been wanting to play college hockey for three or four years. It’s a dream come true.”