M-Lo skating for UMD, Sweden & the Pod. Whale 📸 by Troy Parla

MICHELLE LOWENHIELM: A SMORGASBORD OF TALENT

This season the Whale have welcomed the first Swedish player into the NWHL. And it didn't take our #67 Michelle Lowenhielm very long to make a big first impression on Connecticut Whale fans. In Opening Day of the 2018-2019 NWHL Season, at home on the ice at Terry Conners Rink, Michelle opened some eyes. Quite wide actually. On a day when their opponent the Buffalo Beauts were swarming at times, Michelle gathered the puck along the half boards, and was surrounded by three Beauts. She made a quick start up ice, and when they closed around her, she made a 360 degree spin to her left and drove over the blue line and delivered a perfect cross ice pass to set up our first breakout shot of the season. And it has only gotten better as the year has progressed.

 

Cetacean Nation had the chance to chat with Michelle recently, and we are delighted to be able to share some of her story with you. Michelle has played at both defense and forward, and on special teams, perhaps the most versatile player on the Whale, a team with outstanding player versatility on the roster. Cetacean Nation asked Michelle how she came to be so adept in multiple situations on the ice, and she told us this: “When I started playing hockey, I think the whole time when I played with boys I was actually on defense. After about a year of playing women’s hockey on defense, my coach wanted to put me on center. She said that I had the hands and the vision for it. It turned out that she was right about putting me there. I still played and still do play defense at times. My senior year in college I actually played defense most of the time. The first two years in college I even learned how to play wing, which was definitely a challenge.”

 

Michelle hails from about half an hour north of Stockholm Sweden, along the 61st parallel. That is further north than anywhere in the US except Alaska. The climate is moderated however, by its proximity to the Baltic Sea, and the Nordic mountain ranges that shield it from more arctic influences. The area is noted for several large lakes, and Michelle told us a little bit more about growing up and living there. “I live in Sollentuna, Sweden, close to a lake called Rösjön. Around the lake there are some nice trails surrounded by trees where you can walk the dog and go for a run. There are also outside gyms at some areas along the way to get a good workout in. Walking my dog is a lot of fun and I always get great exercise from him too. Best workout buddy ever.” Michelle added “My grandparents have a house in Norrtälje close to the Swedish coast. Here I enjoy some time with my grandparents and get to relax with my family. Sometimes my grandpa and I take the boat out to go fishing around the many small islands that are called “Stockholms skärgård” or as I looked up, the Stockholm archipelago. A few times my grandpa on my mom’s side joined us and we all had a little competition about who caught the most fish and the biggest fish. When I hangout with grandma we usually cook cause I want to learn how to make her meals or taste her delicious food.” That sounds like a pretty delicious idea to us!

 

Of course, we were very interested in Michelle’s early days in hockey and sport and asked about that. She replied: “After I learned how to walk my parents put some skates on my feet and ever since I was stubborn enough to learn how to skate. Hockey was already a part of the family, since my grandpa was working with hockey and my dad was a part of it too. My older brother, who was also my role model, started to play hockey when he could walk as well so I definitely had to be like him” Michelle continued. “ I tried other sport like gymnastics when I was very little and floorball when I was a little older. This was fun for a while, but not even close to how much fun hockey was. Nothing even compared to hockey and soon enough hockey was all I wanted to do.“ Cetacean Nation was fascinated with Floorball, and we discussed that with Michelle at length, trying to categorize it. It is a form of floor hockey, but different from that or even from another popular European sport, Bandy. Michelle commented afterwards “So when I talked to you I tried to figure out what the sport I played was called, and we thought it was floor hockey, but I looked it up afterwards and I realized it was something a little bit different. Here is an explanation for floorball and how the gear looks like.”

 

 

Cetacean Nation, was intrigued at the subtle but significant differences in the sport, especially the absence of the iconic solid orange balls we see frequently used in floor hockey. The design of the floorball is reminiscent of a more durable Wiffle Ball, which odds are, has probably been utilized from time to time in street hockey games. Moving the topic back to Michelle’s hockey career, we asked how she got her start in the organized sport. Michelle explained “ When I started playing hockey I was playing with my brother until they created a team for my own age group. Growing up in Sweden it is very common to play with boys until you are at least a teenager so that’s what I did. I still practiced with boys until I was 15-16 years old, but when the club I was playing for created a girls team I started the transition over to playing women’s hockey full time.” Michelle continued “In Sweden we don’t have school teams like here in America. We only have club teams, but as I grew up, the club teams started to have some sort of partnership with some high schools around Sweden. So in high school I played for a club team but had practices during the school day and the school helped you out if you needed to miss school for hockey. This was the case for other sports too so this way you could combine your sport with school.” That is a very cool arrangement, and probably a helpful background for a hockey player who has to juggle the dual careers of an NWHL player at present. And things are continuing to get better for Sweden’s female hockey players. Michelle added “Women’s hockey has come a long way in Sweden just the past few years. We have gotten more hockey camps for girls, there are more girls and women’s teams to play with, and the highest league in Sweden has expanded from eight teams to ten. Today the Swedish league even takes in a lot of international players and probably would be considered the best league in Europe for women’s hockey.”

 

And that league is where M-Lo (as Cetacean Nation often fondly refers to Michelle) first made her mark. And at the tender age of fifteen no less! Cetacean Nation asked about that and Michelle filled us in, saying “I played in the Swedish women’s hockey league (SDHL) ever since I was 15 years old. The day before I played the championship game in the year 2013, I turned 18 years old. I remembered thinking that it would be a dream come true to win that game and it could be my last chance to win a Swedish championship before I headed to college. We played against a team that had been in the championship game the past two years, I think. So they knew what it was all about. It was a close game, but I remembered that we played our hearts out and ended up winning 2-1. Turning 18 and winning the Swedish championship one day after the fact was a pretty big deal. You understand why.” We certainly do, and it was not the only amazing age related hockey story Michelle shared with us.

 

Prior to making her debut in the SDHL (the Elite Swedish Women’s Hockey League), Michelle was chosen to represent Sweden in the U18 World Championships which were in Chicago. An awesome accomplishment, especially for someone her age, but there was a hitch: and it was her age! Michelle related: “When I was 14 years old I got the honor to play for the U18 Swedish National team. At the end of that season there was a U18 World Championship in America. People had told me that I had to be 15 years old to fly over to the U.S. and play in the U18 World Championship. Good thing was that I turned 15 years old on the flight over, so by the time that I landed in the U.S. I was old enough to play.” Michelle reflected “I remember this tournament being one of the best experiences I have had in my hockey career. We had so much fun and we ended up winning the bronze medal. After that I played three more U18 World Championships and in my last year I had the honor to be captain, which was another huge and memorable thing for me.”

 

Michelle was not your average teen, not even by the ridiculously high standards of our NWHL players. Pretty good example of that is in M-Lo’s Olympic story. “She related “I was still 18 years old when I got the most amazing news ever. I was going to represent Sweden in the 2014 Olympics that took place in Sochi, Russia. This was an incredible experience that brought out the most amazing and miserable moments in my entire life. Winning and losing games in sports can really make an impact on your life. It didn’t end the way we wanted, but the experience is still like nothing else. It’s hard to describe the moments and memories created form this time at the Olympics. It gotta be experienced first hand.“ Sweden did suffer a heartbreaking loss to a historic and really underrated Swiss team in the Bronze Medal game, but it was a terrific tournament for Michelle. She had a goal and two assists at Sochi, with her goal coming against the powerhouse US team in the semi-finals. During her career to date in the SDHL, Michelle compiled an impressive stat line, as she did while representing Sweden in various international competitions. In the SDHL, Michelle has scored 40 goals and registered 58 assists for an impressive 98 points in just 106 games. On the international level, her production has been equally impressive, as she has accounted for 66 points at various levels with Team Sweden. But even with all of that success, Michelle had a vision and purpose in her hockey and life, and that led her back to the United States.

 

Specifically, that journey led to the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Michelle revealed: “ I think I made a really good decision coming over to America and play college hockey. I’m happy that I decided to go to UMD. Playing hockey on such a high level and getting a degree at the same time was awesome. I chose to study Criminology and minor in Psychology. I did that because I thought it seemed like an interesting thing to study and is a degree I could see myself using in the future. I played with exceptional hockey players, met some great people, and the faculty is amazing. I definitely feel like I gained friends for life and I’m grateful for all the memories we created together on and off the ice.” One of those friends of course is her Bulldog teammate, our #92 Katka Mrazova who joined the Whale along with M-Lo this season. Michelle had a great career at UMD, accounting for 42 points and 117 blocked shots. She was also a multiple time WCHA Scholar- Athlete & WHCA All Academic Team selection as well.

 

Through 13 games in her rookie season with the Whale, Michelle has continued to perfect her three zone game. She has a pair of goals, three assists, and officially ten blocked shots, and was selected to the recent All Star Game in Nashville. That’s quite a start to her pro career, and we wondered how Michelle came to be part of the Pod. She replied: “After college I knew I wanted to continue to play hockey and continue to grow as a player. With four years experience in America the one thing I had on my mind was that I wanted to stay overseas. The hockey culture and the level of compete here is outstanding I think. I wanted to play against the best players in the world and that’s what the NWHL has given me. I wish the league could add some more teams and get some more attention, cause the league got a lot of potential.” With the record crowd that attended the NWHL All Star Game, indications are that Michelle’s wish will be granted! Michelle has roamed pretty far afield in pursuit of her hockey and educational goals. But as she joined the Whale, she was able to avail herself of a great hockey tradition: living with a billet family. Michelle spoke fondly of her opportunity with Marine & Jerome Devillers and their family. “I moved to Connecticut after livin’ in Minnesota for four years and ended up in a house with five kids and their parents. It turned out that this was a great fit for me and I’m very lucky to have gotten to know them. Marine and Jerome are so nice and have helped me out a lot. Their kids love hockey, are very well behaved, and we have a lot of fun together. So a special thank you to them and for welcoming me into their family.” Cetacean Nation knows how grateful players are for this opportunity, and Fins Up to the Devillers for their support of young players like Michelle. And it must be pretty cool for the little ones too, to have pro hockey player staying in their house!

 

Cetacean Nation knows that there is usually a story connected to a player’s number, and that is certainly true in Michelle’s case. She gave us this poignant explanation for her choice to wear uniform #67: “The #67 has a very important meaning to me. I have it to honor my dad and for him to be close to me even though he can’t be here and see me play. He was born the year 1967 and passed away when I was younger. He was a great dad and an amazing person.” And we are sure he would be justifiably proud of his talented daughter Michelle Karin. In closing, Michelle offered this shout out to the fans. “ I just want to end with saying that I think we have very dedicated and great fans, which is a lot of fun and needed. I appreciate all the support and looking forward seeing you.” Cetacean Nation thanks our #67 Michelle Lowenhielm, the Pod’s “Smorgasbord of Talent” for her great input, and sharing these parts of her story with us.Fins Up M-Lo!

Michelle at the rink with her billet family’s little Future Draft Pick