From Sweden to South Dakota to Massachusetts, the last five years have looked nearly identical for UMass Lowell teammates Carl Berglund and Andre Lee.
They started off as rivals until Berglund transferred onto Lee’s U16 team in their home country of Sweden.
“From the beginning, I knew [Lee] as a great player from another team,” Berglund said. “He’s always been a tall kid, was always a big kid.”
“I’ve always liked him,” Berglund added. “After a few months on that team, we played together for the rest of that year and I’ve always enjoyed being around him. He always brings a smile to your face.”
Two years ago, the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Lee decided he wanted to experience America and came from Sweden to the U.S. to play for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL.
Not long after, he got a phone call. It was Berglund.
His ex-teammate was curious about life in Sioux Falls, and whether or not it made sense for him to follow Lee’s lead and move to the U.S. Lee assured him that it had been a great experience and he’d feel comfortable playing there.
That was all Berglund needed to hear to make the move from Sweden and join Lee in South Dakota.
“The chance for me came up just before Christmas to finish the year off over there and I didn’t hesitate with that decision,” Berglund said. “I took it right away.”
Berglund played 37 games as a center for Sioux Falls and finished with five goals and 11 assists while Lee scored 20 goals and added 15 assists in 61 games as a left wing, and racked up 11 points in 12 postseason games. Lee was then selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Draft.
While Lee’s family made the move to the U.S. with him, Berglund’s remained in Sweden. That wasn’t easy, but having Lee’s family around didn’t just help his own transition, but having a friendly face helped Berglund feel more comfortable during his first time being away from home.
“The first night when I got there, I went to Andre’s house to eat and we had such a good time,” Berglund said. “There’s a lot of fun memories of going to my house, too. We had this big basement where we used to play ping pong with the roommate I was living with and Andre.”
Lee and Berglund always found opportunities to have playful competition both on and off the ice, but when it came to golfing, it’s always been one-sided.
“Carl is really good at golf. He always beats me!”, Lee said.
After coming to the U.S. and playing for Sioux Falls, it was time for the duo to contemplate their futures. They visited UMass Lowell and decided there was no need to go their separate ways.
“We decided that Lowell might be the place, and why not just do it together?,” Lee said.
The pair have bonded during their long plane rides home, another perk of being together in Massachusetts. Lee hails from Karlstad, Sweden while Berglund is from nearby Hammaro – about 20 minutes south.
“Another thing that’s really nice is that we live close to each other in Sweden,” Berglund said. “We always go with each other to the airport and we travel together, sitting next to each other on planes. You’re never alone when you travel, which is nice.”
Between listening to music and watching their favorite show, Peaky Blinders, they manage to stay busy through the 10-hour flight home.
“He always has something going on, so you’re never bored with him,” Berglund said of Lee. “He’s always got a smile on his face and he always makes you laugh.”
During their freshman season with UMass Lowell, Berglund and Lee ranked second and third on the team with 23 and 20 points, respectively. At the unexpected shut-down last season, the River Hawks were ranked 12th in the country. This season, they are 20th despite being only one of two teams ranked teams who have played just six games.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a few setbacks, including 13 postponed games. The team is 3-3 overall and has played just twice since Jan. 4.
Nonetheless, Berglund and Lee got off to an electric start in their first four games played before the pause. Berglund scored three goals and added four assists, while Lee tallied two goals to go with two assists.
The transition from Swedish hockey to the American game was drastic for both Berglund and Lee because hockey in Sweden employs bigger rinks and a less physical game, primarily focused on skill training.
“It’s been a great journey for the both of them,” UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin said.
While the pair aren’t out on the ice together often, when they are, they cherish it.
“[Berglund’s] really smart and makes a lot of great plays,” Lee said. “Whenever I’m out there with him, I’m just trying to get open and trying to give him a pass.”
Although they’re so close, they’ve somehow never roomed together. But that doesn’t prevent them from their daily Swedish conversations filled with laughter.
“[Berglund’s] so kind,” said Lee. “He will always be there if you need something and will always come over if you’ve got something on your mind. He’s just so kind. Sometimes he gets on my nerves and we kind of joke around, but it’s always friendly at the end of the day.”
The experience has been one like no other, and Lee and Berglund are thankful to have each other through it all.
“When we both had a chance to come here, we took it quickly,” Berglund said. “Having the opportunity to keep playing together made it an easy decision.”