April 28, 2016

Roger Hagglund

Known for his Bon Jovi haircut that would make even Jaromir Jagr jealous, Roger Hagglund was a very talented defenseman who debuted in the Swedish second division, for his hometown team Bjorkloven as a 16-year old in 1977-78.

The next year he played in the Swedish Elite League for Bjorkloven where he played until 1983, being named rookie of the year in 1979. He also represented Sweden in two world championships, and was part of the Sweden's first ever World Junior championship gold medal team in 1981.

Roger had been drafted in 1980 (138th overall) by St. Louis and was regarded as a long shot for a NHL career, despite his obvious skills. He was an agile defenseman with excellent puck and stickhandling skills.

In 1983-84 he joined Vastra Frolunda in one of the most expensive acquisitions ever (at the time) in Swedish hockey. But the move turned into a disaster as he didn't get along with his coach Kjell Jonsson. He was actually thinking about retirement when he was only 23 years old.

Roger spent the summer of 1984 in Cyprus where he sold bicycles. Just as his career seemed to be over he was offered a one year contract by Quebec Nordiques, who had obtained his rights from St.Louis. The offer came as a surprise to many people, including Roger.

After his worst season ever he was suddenly on his way to the NHL where he would suit up along guys like the Stastny brothers and Michel Goulet.  It was an opportunity no bike salesman could turn down.

"I would have been stupid if I hadn't taken the chance," he said later on.

Roger never saw eye to eye with Quebec's coach Michel Bergeron during the 1984-85 training camp. Two days before the NHL season started he was sent down to Fredericton of the AHL.

"I never got an explanation why I was sent down. I just packed and left for Fredericton," Roger said.

Apparently Hagglund's offensive style wasn't what Bergeron was looking for.

"Hägglund has to learn that he's a defenseman. When he's learned the lesson in Fredericton, we'll let him come back," Bergeron said to the Quebec press.

Roger had a hard time to cope with the criticism.

"When I arrived to Quebec everybody told me that the team lacked offensive defensemen, so I played the way I thought I should play and the way I like to play. Then I heard that I shouldn't have played that way at all. It's pretty weird I think. Nobody told me what I was doing wrong. After four weeks someone told me that I wasn't doing the right things."

After a month in Fredericton Roger got a call from Quebec's GM Maurice Fillion who told him to take the next plane to Quebec. He made his NHL debut on November 13, 1984 against Los Angeles at Le Colisée in Quebec, in a 5-4 overtime loss. He played another two games in the NHL, both against St.Louis (On November 14 and 16), the team that had drafted him.

In the November 16 game, a slap shot hit his arm and he broke a bone in his hand. The next day he was sent back to Fredericton.

Roger wasn't all that thrilled about Fredericton as a town but he was surprised over the AHL quality.

"The town was a tragedy. There was absolutely nothing to do there. I'm however surprised over the level of play in the AHL. I heard a lot of negative things about the league before I came over, things like that there is no organization in the farm teams and that players show up at training drunk and stuff like that. It's only a myth because the farm teams are run very professionally. It works as well as it does on the Swedish Elite teams. A lot of the guys on the teams are young with a good shot at the NHL."

The only consolation for Roger was that he earned about $100,000 during his stay over in North America. When it was evident that he wasn't in Quebec's future plans he decided to return back home to Sweden. Roger went back to his old team Bjorkloven and became a fixture on their defense from 1985 to 1992. The last three seasons there the team played in the Swedish second division. Roger scored 145 points in only 111 games during this time and was the best defenseman in the league.

Unfortunately tragedy struck after the 1991-92 season as the man who everybody called "Bullen" died in a car accident. He was just 30 years old.

He only got a taste of the NHL for three games, but he was highly regarded by his teammates in Sweden. Most of the times he had a smile on his face, even when things weren't going his way. He still had a few good years left in him when the accident happened.

His number 23 jersey is no longer worn anymore in Bjorkloven in his honour.

No comments: