OSLO – Norway returns to the top division of the IIHF World U20 Championship after a four-year absence. A tough battle awaits the Scandinavians, who will be looking for inspiring performances from their highly rated goaltender, Lars Volden, in their bid for survival.
"We are hoping to win at least one game of the group stage, but the main objective will be not to get relegated," says Volden, whose impressive displays helped both Norway's U20 and U18 national teams to earn promotion from Division I last season.
Gearing up to face Sweden, Canada, the Czech Republic and Russia in Group B of the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship in Buffalo and Niagara, the tall and technically gifted 18-year-old relishes the challenge to test his game against the quartet of historically illustrious opponents.
"I am expecting a big difference. Not only in terms of the style of play from opponents, but the players will be better and the shots are going to be of a higher calibre. The emphasis on my training this season has been on rebound control, keeping my gloves active with traffic in front of the goal and to try to improve my reading of the game," says Volden.
In order to develop in his trade, Volden made a decision ahead of this season to leave reigning Norwegian champions Stavanger Oilers for a life in the outskirts of the Finnish capital Helsinki when Espoo Blues came calling. A move he has benefited from so far at a club where competition for a starting place is fierce.
"It's a very professionally run club and Finland is very good when it comes to developing goaltenders," says Volden. "So far this season things have been going well. I have played 17 games with the Juniors of the Blues and been sitting on the bench for the first
team on a couple of occasions."
Norway first entered the top division of the IIHF World U20 Championships back in 1979 where they scored only two goals before getting relagated. Apart from a three-year consecutive spell between 1989-1991 the Scandinavians have spent most of their time in the second tier of the competition. Their most recent appearance was at the 2006 IIHF World U20 Championship in British Columbia, which ended up with a last place finish and relegation. Ahead of this year's tournament, head coach Geir Hoff is carefully realistic about his team's prospects, which is to stay up at the highest level.
"The problem for us is that ice hockey is still a small sport in Norway and we have few players to choose from," says Hoff. "But judging by the performances of our U20 and U18 national teams last year, there are good signals that we are moving forward, and more young Norwegian players have started to move to different leagues abroad to develop their game and that is something we will benefit from."
Apart from Finnish-based Volden in goal, Hoff's roster for the ”World Juniors” also includes Michael Haga and Sondre Olden, forwards who ply their trade in Sweden at Luleå and MODO Örnsköldsvik respectively, while three others, Rasmus Juell at Cedar Rapids Roughriders (USHL), Nicholas Weberg at Shattuck St. Mary (USHL), and Andreas Stene at Kelowna Rockets, (WHL) play their hockey in North America.
"We are an evenly balanced team with good skaters and our strongest positions are goaltending and our offensive players," says Hoff about his roster and picks out, apart from Volden, Sondre Olden as a player to keep an eye out for. The 194 cm tall and skilful forward is a third-round draft pick, 79th overall, by the Toronto Maple Leafs and a vital cog for the Norwegians in their bid to prolong their tenure in the top division.
Norway arrived in the State of New York with their strongest roster available. The squad had a solid performances in last month's friendly tournament in Füssen where they defeated Switzerland’s U19 team and narrowly lost to hosts Germany and Slovakia in three tightly contested games, but they couldn’t challenge reigning champion USA in an exhibition game the lost 6-1.
First up for the Norway at the IIHF World U20 Championship will be a stern test against their Scandinavian neighbours and last year's bronze winners - Sweden - in Niagara on December 26.
Norway's preliminary roster
Kenneth Eriksen, Manglerud Star
Steffen Søberg, Manglerud Star
Lars Volden, Espoo Blues (FIN)
Robin Andersen, Stjernen
Jens Ulrik Bacher, Frisk Asker
Nicolay Bryhnisveen, Lørenskog
Adrian Saxrud Danielsen, Storhamar
Kenneth Madsø, Lillehammer
Daniel Rokseth, Manglerud Star
Tobias Skaarberg, Sparta Sarpsborg
Simen Viker Brekke, Vålerenga
Eirik Børresen, Storhamar
Petter Røste Fossen, Rosenborg
Hans Kristian Hollstedt, Stjernen
Michael Haga, Luleå (SWE)
Rasmus Juell, Cedar Rapids (USA)
Magnus Lindahl, Frisk Asker
Torstein Nordrum, Frisk Asker
Sondre Olden, Modo (SWE)
Mats Rosseli Olsen, Vålerenga
Jonas Oppøyen , Vålerenga
Andreas Stene, Kelowna Rockets (CAN)
Joachim Sundelius, Manglerud Star
Nicholas Weberg, Shattuck St. Mary (USA)