KOSICE – A win for Norway in regulation time against France on Monday will lock up a spot for them in the quarter-finals at this year’s IIHF World Championship. It’s not completely uncharted territory for the Norwegians, but they’re not exactly walking along a well-marked trail either.
Since the playoff round format was introduced at the World Championship by the IIHF in 1992, 2008 was the one and only time Norway has made it that far.
Norway has received solid goaltending from Lars Haugen and he, in turn, has played behind a team playing tenacious defence and frustrating enemy shooters with fearless shot blocking. But here is the big surprise: Norway is scoring goals. The team has managed 17 goals in five games, tied for fifth in the tournament. They own the best goals to shots on goal ratio of any team (14.91%). They haven’t scored as many goals since 2007 and, in terms of average goals per game; they haven’t hit these lofty heights in over a decade (2000).
There are several Norwegian players turning in great showings, but one of the trailblazers for the team is veteran Anders Bastiansen. The 30-year-old is playing in his sixth World Championship and has already tied his World Championship best with four goals and set a high with seven points.
“This is no surprise, he’s played great hockey for us for the last six years,” says Norway head coach Roy Johansen. “He’s playing really good for us this World Championship, but he’s played good for us before.”
Those who watch the Swedish Elitserien probably have more of a “of course he’s playing well” reaction. Bastiansen has been a good player in that league for several years now. He is just coming off a championship season with Färjestad Karlstad, where he led the team in playoff goal scoring and was named playoff MVP.
“Of course it helped that I had a good playoff with Färjestad. I came almost straight to the World Championship after the playoffs,” says Bastiansen. “I was a little tired in my head, but you get here with a great bunch of guys and you’re excited and ready to go again.”
The pressure was notched up a little on Bastiansen when the team’s perennial leading scorer at the World Championship, Patrick Thoresen, decided to sit out this year’s tournament so he could spend more time with his family. Another top forward Norway was counting on, Mats Zuccarello, injured his hand in the AHL playoffs and had to drop out.
“I had the coach believing that I had to play offensive, and I’ve tried to do that,” agrees Bastiansen. “But I’ve also tried to do my job in the defensive zone as well.”
At this point of the tournament, it’s so much about momentum and confidence. Norway has it going on both counts.
“Everyone said we couldn’t do it,” smiles the veteran. “We’ve stuck together for the world championship and talked about how we could do it, because we have a good team. Lars [Haugen] has been great. We’re blocking shots. We’re doing everything we can to win.