Giant flags from Scandinavian countries don’t often have a natural place at Michigan sporting events.
But a 120-square-foot Swedish national flag has blended into the game-day atmosphere perfectly at Yost Ice Arena lately.
Maybe it’s the blue and yellow color scheme. Or maybe it’s junior forward Carl Hagelin. The Sodertalje, Sweden native leads the Wolverines in goals and points this season.
After struggling to register points as an underclassman, Hagelin is just four points away from his career-high season total with eleven games remaining on the schedule. Despite his scoring touch, it’s the group Hagelin spearheads, the penalty kill, that has generated some of the loudest cheers this season.
Against Ferris State, while killing a two-minute five-on-three, the Wolverines gave up just one shot. Hagelin played a major part in the kill as he picked up the puck in the neutral zone, skated a giant circle around the zone and fired it away, killing off about 20 seconds of penalty time by himself. By the time the penalties were over, the only people sitting down in Yost Ice Arena were those on the bench. Those kind of plays, along with the goals, and, according to Hagelin, his nationality, have put him in the spotlight all season.
“(Fans) like PK players,” Hagelin said. “Killing off penalties is probably a huge part of it. And then the fact that I’m not from here, that helps a lot too. Something that’s different is usually something fun, that’s probably a big part of it.”
But the support was growing long before this season. In some ways, it started before he even stepped on the ice.
The Michigan hockey team had to run the stairs of Michigan stadium in the weeks leading up to Hagelin’s freshman year. There, he displayed the extraordinary work ethic that has built rapport with fans and earned him the title of alternate captain. He didn’t just beat everybody; he blew everybody away, according to Michigan coach Red Berenson.
“He has worked his bag off from the first day I met him,” Berenson said. “Never being told, never being pushed, never challenged. I haven’t seen a kid with a better work ethic from scratch than Carl Hagelin.”
The crowd noticed Hagelin shortly after that, and the Swedish flag started popping up last year. It was notably smaller than the current flag, and near the top rows of the student section. It moved down a couple rows this season, and was accompanied by a Texas flag and a Canadian flag when Hagelin played on a line with Texan freshman Chris Brown and Canadian sophomore Louie Caporusso.
But after the line was broken up, the flags disappeared completely.
That is until Engineering sophomore Rob Eckert, after conferring with his friends, decided to make the behemoth that has become a mainstay just to the right of the opponents’ bench — by hand.
“I asked my mom around Christmas time when I saw her if I could borrow her sewing machine,” Eckert said. “She was like ‘What are you making?’ I (told) her I was making a Swedish flag, a big one. And my Mom made it for me for my Christmas present.”
The flag, which looks like it was stolen directly from the United Nations building, was unveiled two weeks ago for Michigan’s game against Alaska.
“It’s pretty hard not to recognize the big flag,” Hagelin said. “It’s obviously an honor, so keep it coming.”
While Eckert, who is not of Swedish descent, has no current plans to add to his giant flag collection, he did mention there were discussions of a Texas flag to honor Brown. But one issue makes its success questionable: The color scheme is off.