In continuation of PensBurgh's Olympic preview series, today we make a stop in Norway. If you'd like to check out the previous articles in the series, here they are:
WORLD RANKING AND OLYMPIC HISTORY
Norway men's team is currently ranked #9 in IIHF world rankings. They didn't do all that well at the 2013 WC in Sweden/Finland, where they didn't make the quarterfinals, but berths for Sochi were based on the prior year's ranking, and in 2012 Norway was ranked #8 as such received an automatic spot in the 2014 Olympic tournament. The Polar Bears did pretty well in 2010 and 2011 WC and upset some world powers (such as Czech Republic in 2010 and Sweden in 2011, when they also lost a close game against Canada). They were probably the most entertaining team to watch at the 2012 WC tournament in which they scored 35 goals in 8 games, putting a dozen on Germany and half-dozen on Italy and Denmark apiece. I saw most of their games in that tournament and almost each one was a goal bonanza.
Norway's Olympic hockey history dates back to Oslo in 1952, where they finished 9th. Since then they participated another 9 times and each time finished somewhere between 9th and 12th place, which is about where they are in the world's power rankings.
PROJECTED FINAL ROSTER
Unlike several other countries, Norway didn't hold a pre-Olympic camp or released a preliminary roster of players being considered, so here is my best guess of what the final roster might look like. Their jersey design isn't available yet either. Because other than our beloved Mats Zuccarello there are no Norwegians in the NHL and they are relatively unknown to most of our readers in North America, I will also list the teams they are playing for in 2013-14 so you can get a better idea of the level these players are competing at right now.
Goalies: Lars Haugen (Dinamo Minsk), Lars Volden (Espoo Blues-FIN), Steffen Soberg (Valerenga-NOR)
With long-time Norwegian netminder Pål Grotnes now retired, it will probably be Dinamo Minsk's Lars Haugen in the net for Norway, and backing him up will probably be Lars Volden, Bruins draft pick who currently plays in Finland.
Defensemen: Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (L) (Färjestads-SWE), Mats Trygg (R) (Lørenskog-NOR), Alexander Bonsaksen (L) (Valerenga-NOR), Jonas Holøs (R) (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl), Mattias Nørstebø (L) (Brynäs-SWE), Henrik Solberg (L) (Stavanger-NOR), Henrik Ødegaard (L) (Chicago Wolves, on loan to Missouri Mavericks), Daniel Sorvik (L) (Valerenga-NOR)
This is a decent group of good-skating defensemen who are well suited for the bigger European ice but are not big and overly physical. Their top two pairings that will play the heavy minutes will be Tollefsen-Trygg and Bonsaksen-Holøs. Solberg-Nørstebø or Ødegaard could be the third pairing, and the remaining spot will be up for grabs. Norway has some good young up-and-coming defensemen, such as Lillehammer's Aleksander Rindal and Nicolai Bryhnisveen, who is actually having a terrific season, but I think Johansen will go for experience over promise in this tournament.
Forwards: RW/LW Mats Zuccarello (New York Rangers), LW/C Patrick Thoresen (SKA St. Petersburg), LW Per-Åge Skröder (Modo-SWE), C Anders Bastiansen (Färjestads-SWE), C Mathis Olimb (Frölunda-SWE), RW Marius Holtet (Färjestads-SWE), LW/RW Martin Röymark (Färjestads-SWE), C/RW Kristian Forsberg (Modo-SWE), RW/LW Mats Rosseli Olsen (Frölunda-SWE), C Morten Ask (Valerenga-NOR), C Mads Hansen (Storhamar-NOR), C/RW Andreas Martinsen (Dusseldorfer-GER), RW/LW Lars-Erik Spets (Lørenskog-NOR), C Ken-Andre Olimb (Dusseldorfer-GER)
Putting together Norwegian lines is like playing Blokus, the combinations could be endless. Zuccarello, Thoresen and Skröder are their most skilled forwards, but would they make one killer line out of them or spread them around? Thoresen could play center or wing and Zucca can play either wing so any number of guys could fit on there. Olimb-Bastiansen-Olimb played together as well. Because most of their players are so versatile, their lines could be very fluid.
MEET THE COACHES
Roy Johansen has coached Norway's national team since 2001. He is known for preferring experienced, reliable players so I don't think there will be many surprises about the team he and GM Bjørn Mathisrud will assemble.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Strength: Norwegians are very well balanced position-wise, and many of their skilled forwards are very versatile and can switch from wing to center and/or play either wing. Their defense is skilled and fast, and they know how to use the big ice to their advantage and move the puck with speed.
Weakness: Their starter in goal will most likely be Lars Haugen, who is currently sporting a 2.69 GAA and a .909 SV% for Dinamo Minsk, one of KHL second-tier teams. I think Haugen is very good, but he will be put to a huge test here and the two guys behind him are not very experienced. Also, their defense is not very physical and they will have problems with big and strong NHL forwards.
Norway has been drawn into group B with Canada, Finland and Austria. They play Canada first, followed by Finland, then Austria. Their disappointing result at the 2013 WC notwithstanding, Norway has several very dangerous and experienced players and could upset a team, although I don't think they have much of a chance against either Canada or Finland. At this moment, Austria is a team on the upswing and getting better every year and I wouldn't consider their beating Norway a huge upset, although I think Norway is still ahead of them right now and will take that game. Either way, Norway will have to play in the qualification playoff that will be the end of the road for them. That said, they are kind of a dark horse. We've seen Norway get hot in a tournament before, so we know this is a team very capable of pulling a major upset. If I'm Canada, Finland, or whichever team they pull in a bid for the quarters, I'm tightening up my back end and not getting into a run-and-gun with them.
For the end, I'll leave you with possibly the greatest hockey victory dance of all time, courtesy of Adrian Alvarstein from a second division Norwegian league team, who flashed some awesome dance moves on the ice last month after winning a game with Narvik.