Saturday, February 13, 2010
The fourth highest seeded team in Group A at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Tournament is Norway.
The Norway National Ice Hockey Team is currently ranked 11th in the IIHF World Rankings. Based on their status outside the top nine ranked countries, Norway was obligated to participate in the Olympic Qualification process, a series of tournaments that date back to September of 2008. The host Norwegians were able to advance to the main tournament in Vancouver by defeating Denmark 5-3 in the deciding game of their group which also consisted of Kazakhstan and France.
The Norwegians have participated in the Olympics in ice hockey nine times since 1952, with their best result being an 8th place in 1972 and a 9th place in 1992. 2010 will be the first time Norway has qualified for the Olympic tournament since 1994.
Norway has participated in the World Championships dating as far back as 1937, with regular participation since 1958. Norway has never won a medal at the World Championships with their best finish being a fourth place back in 1951.
In recent times, they earned a promotion to the Top Division in 1989, were relegated in 1990, and played in the expanded Top Division from 1992 through 1997, when they were relegated once more. In 1999 they were back in the Top Division as hosts of the tournament and stayed there three years before once more dropping back down to Division 1. On their fourth try in 2005, they regained a spot in the Top Division, where they have successfully remained for the last four years, including a nice 8th place in 2008, which included taking Finland to overtime and beating Germany to avoid the relegation round. They then acquitted themselves well in a 2-1 loss to Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia before bowing out of the tournament after reaching the quarterfinals.
Norway enters the 2010 Olympics with no NHLers on it's roster, as Ole-Kristian Tollefsen recently of Philadelphia was traded to Detroit which sent him down to Grand Rapids of the AHL. The remainder of the Norwegian roster comes from a number of leagues, including Patrick Thoresen, a former Flyer, currently an impressive 6th in scoring in the KHL, 11 players from Sweden's Elitserien, highlighted by the 2009 Elitserien's leading scorer Per-Åge Skrøder of Modo. Five players play in the GET-ligen at home in Norway, 6' 4" forward Tore Vikingstad leads the three player contingent from the German DEL and goaltender Andre Lysenstoen competes in the Finnish SM-liiga. 21 of the 23 players competed together at the 2009 World Championships, so they hope to bring some chemistry to the tournament that the elite countries may lack.
With the format for this year's Olympics calling for the top four teams after the Preliminary Round to receive byes into the quarterfinals, the key for Norway will be trying to keep their games as close as possible in the very difficult Group A, as the schedule makers have been very cruel to Norway, putting them up against hosts Canada on day one, followed by the United States two days later.
Unfortunately, the format of the tournament goes against the smaller countries like Norway, as the top teams will be looking to pour it on in the preliminary round since the short schedule puts a great emphasis on goal differential to determine who gets the coveted bye into the quarterfinals, or at least the most favorable matchup in the secondary round on February 23rd for a berth in the quarterfinals.
With the other qualifiers Latvia and Germany seemingly more suited to playing a shutdown, defensive style, better suited to keeping their games closer, the more offensively oriented Norwegians seem ill-suited to for the tournament, as they cannot be expected to keep pace in a wide open game against the likes of Canada, the US and Switzerland in Group A, all of whom are in the top 7 of the IIHF world rankings.
Expect Norway to give it their best shot, but tire as the tournament goes on and bow out in the secondary round as they draw an opponent such as Finland, the United States or the Czech Republic, if not worse, should any of the top three seeded teams suffer an upset in the preliminary round. Of all the teams in the tournament, Norway seems to be the one just making up the numbers, but that is more than can be said for Denmark, Kazahstan, Austria and Ukraine who all failed to qualify for Vancouver.
Sometimes just competing in the Olympic tournament is it's own reward, and Norway should take it all in and enjoy the atmosphere of being in the opening game against Canada in Vancouver and participating in the Olympics for the first time since 1994. Who knows? Belarus knocked Sweden out of the tournament in 2002 and every now and then, miracles can happen...
Today's featured jersey is a Nike 1999 Norway National Team Per-Åge Skrøder jersey as worn during the 1999 World Championships held in Norway. Skrøder scored four goals and had one assist for five points in six games, as the host Norwegians beat Italy to finish third in Group A and avoid the relegation round.
Skrøder started his career with four seasons in the Norwegian Eliteserien before moving to Sweden to play professionally since 1998, first with Frölunda, then Linköpings, followed by HV 71, where he won a championship in 2004, Södertälje and most recently Modo Hockey, where he won a championship in 2007 and was the Eliteserien's leading scorer in 2008-09 with 30 goals and 59 points in 55 games. He was also named Norway's Player of the Year in 2002.
This will be Skrøder's first Olympics in Vancouver after competing in the World Juniors and eight World Championships for Norway.
Here is a look at the jerseys that Norway will be wearing in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. These jerseys reprise the classic vintage jersey worn by Norway once in the 2008 World Championships as part of the IIHF Centennial Celebrations, which were based on the jerseys originally worn by Norway in the 1960's, with the addition of the even more striking red road version, one of our favorites in the whole tournament.
Today's video section starts off with highlights of Norway from the 2008 World Championship. Notice the white "Norge" 1960's vintage jeresys at the start of the video against Germany (wearing black). This would be the only time Norway would wear these attractive throwbacks.
Also take note of Norway scoring against Canada, proving they are capable of giving the Canadians a game to open the Olympic tournament, especially if Canada feels the pressure to perform at home with the entire nation watching.
No mention of Norwegian would be complete without the following video of the 1989 National Team singing "Heia Norge".
Dasherboard: While the Men's tournament does not begin until Tuesday the 16th, the women's portion of the Olympic hockey begins today. Their are eight countries fielding teams in the competition. Group A consists of Canada, Sweden, Switzerland and Slovakia, while Group B has the United States, Finland, Russia and China. After playing three games in the group stage, the top two teams from each group will advance to the medal round.
Look for the host Canadians to face off against the Americans for the gold medal, with Sweden having a shot, having knocked the American's out of the tournament in 2006 before losing to Canada in the gold medal game 4-1.
The Canadians won the majority of exhibition games leading up to the tournament (7-3) and seem to have the upper hand going in, which will only be aided by the support of their home fans. The United States, however, has won three of the last four World Championships and won't be intimidated by their recent record against Canada.
The Preliminary Round women's games will take place February 13-18, with the semi-finals on the 18th and the medal games on February 25th.