NIAGARA – When Norway plays Germany today, it’s a game with little meaning for both teams. It’s a farewell game, for ninth place, and to determine each team’s group of next year’s Division I as both teams have already been relegated.
“We obviously are not good enough. We need to work on our creativity and goal scoring, because that’s been terrible with just four goals scored,” forward Sondre Olden said after the last game against Slovakia.
Norway has had 18 straight losses in the World U20 Championship top division. The game against Germany will provide an opportunity to end the losing streak, but in the long term, there’s more work to do in Norway.
“We have to get more players to start play. Norway is not a big hockey country,” said Sondre Olden. “We have about 3,000 players and in North America they have more hockey players than people living in Norway. People just have to start with hockey and not football.”
Head coach Geir Hoff agrees -- more kids need to be attracted to the sport.
“Hockey is a small sport in Norway. Although we do not have too many players, we have a good program for kids to make the sport grow,” Hoff said. “We’re more a cross-country ski nation, but we try to get more kids involved in hockey.”
Most players at the age of 18-20 in Norway try to develop at home. With fewer high-calibre players and less money involved than in the top European leagues, talented youngsters get a spot in the professional league quite early.
Only a few players from this year’s roster try it elsewhere – in Sweden, Finland, or North America.
Olden is one of them. He started playing as a kid because his mother has a hockey school in Oslo. “I was probably four or five years old when I started,” he said.
After making Manglerud’s senior team at age 16, he transferred from Oslo to MODO Örnsköldsvik, Sweden, where he mostly played on the U20 team, but he also had three games with the men’s team in the Swedish top league, Elitserien.
“Try as hard as you can every day and have fun,” is what Olden recommends Norwegian juniors. “And go to Sweden as there’s better hockey there. The Elitserien is a top league and I’m happy that I could play some games there. There are lots of good players.”
His role in Buffalo at the U20 is much different than with his pro team. He has to convert from being a rookie to being a leader. “It’s a difference. It’s a big tournament, and when you lose by nine goals you have to talk to the boys all the time and tell them, ‘don’t stop playing even if it’s 5-0’,” the 18-year-old, 192 cm forward said.
Olden’s talent is not only known in Scandinavia. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke talked to him at last year’s World U20 Championship. The Leafs drafted him in the third round last summer.
At the moment, however, his thoughts are not that far into future.
“I have to play this season and then we will see in summer,” Olden explained his situation. “Hopefully, I will go to North America some time, but I haven’t thought that much about right now. Now I have to focus on my season with MODO. But of course the NHL is a big dream.”
Now his focus is on the game against Germany.
“We don’t want to lose all the games here. The game against Germany is, therefore, very important to us. We will be ready for it,” Olden said. “We played an exhibition game against them in November. It’s a good team. Every team here is good.”