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His Choice Was the Right One

Senior Forward Mikael Hammarstrom Chose Hockey Over Soccer

By Kevin Beattie

Game Program, November 21, 2003

Unlike many of his teammates who grew up in Canada, Mikael Hammarstrom didn't just play hockey while growing up. In Sweden, where RPI's senior forward grew up, they play hockey when it is cold and soccer when it is not. When there became too much overlap between the seasons, however, Hammarstrom was forced to choose one or the other. He selected hockey and Rensselaer fans have been thankful ever since.

Over the past three-plus seasons, the smooth-skating native of Gavle, Sweden has worked hard and become a consistent player for the Engineers. Entering this weekend, the 6-1, 200-pound winger tallied seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points in 99 games during his collegiate career.

Even while splitting his time between two sports for much of his childhood, Hammarstrom still gained a great deal of experience on the ice. He suited up for Sweden's Under-16 and Under-18 National teams, playing some intense competition, including seeing action in one of the most fierce rivalries on the globe - Sweden vs. Finland. He found the opposition even stronger while playing for the Brynas Tigers, a league that featured highly skilled, older players.

While the hockey was first-rate, Hammarstrom wanted more. He wanted to continue to play while furthering his education. That opportunity didn't present itself in Sweden so, under the advisement of his family, friends and coach, he pursued the college ranks in the United States.

"If I wanted to take the next step in hockey back home, I would have had to sign with someone," he said. "And to go to a university at the same time is not possible."

"I played in my hometown for a former American player. His best friend played at Michigan Tech. and that's how I first got introduced to the idea. Then one of my father's best friends, Anders Hedberg, he is now the director of player personnel for Ottawa (Senators), used to help players come over to play college so I talked a lot to him."

How Mikael landed in Troy, however, is still a bit uncertain - even to him. "I have no idea, to be quite honest with you," he said, laughing. "Before coming here I didn't know much about RPI. While it has a great reputation here in the States, it's not that well-known in Sweden, so I didn't have a very good idea where I was going. But I talked to a lot of people and learned quickly."

One of those who encouraged him to play collegiately was Hammarstrom's father, Inge. A world-class hockey player in his own right, Inge was familiar with the United States from his days of playing seven seasons in the National Hockey League in the 1970s.

Now a scout for the Philadelphia Flyers, Inge has been able to see his son a couple of times a year. His mother and only sister, however, have only been to Troy once. "It was hard to leave them at first," said Mikael, who learned English while in school in Sweden. "They came over my sophomore year and they are coming back over Christmas."

Despite missing his friends and family back home, he is glad he has spent the past three years calling Houston Field House home from September to March. In that time, he has seen the team experience a great deal of success, including a 20-win season in 2001-02, as well as a rough road, such as last year when the Engineers finished 12-25-3.

Hammarstrom believes this year's team will be more like the former rather than the latter. "As a group, we're very optimistic. Right now everyone's getting along very well and it's shown on the ice because we are working very well together. Last year was a building year and we kind of got stuck in a bad circle there for a while. Early on this season we started off a little rough but we've played much better since."

But are they playing well enough to topple this weekend's opponent, St. Cloud State? After all, the Huskies enter the two-game set with an 8-1-1 record and ranked fifth in the nation. "It will be a challenge," said Hammarstrom, who had an assist in two-game split against St. Cloud last season. "It was fun going out there last year and I guess they have an even better team this year."