Learning from your neighbour

Norwegians' and Danes' route to stardom goes via Sweden

31.05.2009
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Zurich  SWITZERLAND

Norway's Mats Zuccarello Aasen (left) has profited a lot from developing in Sweden. Photo: Jukka Rautio / HHOF-IIHF Images

STOCKHOLM – With the exception of the NHL (US, Canada) and possibly the KHL (Russia), all other countries always seem to have their best players playing somewhere else. For some of them, players leaving their domestic league is a major nuisance at best, and a big problem at worst.

Finnish fans aren’t too happy to see 70 fellow countrymen skating on Swedish Elitserien ice, and the Swedes - especially those in Linköping - would surely have liked to see Magnus Johansson, Tony Mårtensson, and Mattias Weinhandl in Elitserien last season instead of the KHL.

However, for many of the hockey nations just outside the top ten in the IIHF ranking, getting players to the big European leagues -- and to the NHL -- is a way of improving their hockey program. 

Two of those are Denmark and Norway, two Nordic countries on the rise, even if Denmark ended up in the relegation round in the recent World Championship in Switzerland.

The Norwegian national team finished last in its qualifying round group, with two overtime losses (to Belarus and Slovakia) to its credit. Norway recently qualified to the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 where they will play in the same group as Canada, Switzerland, and the US.

Only one Norwegian player hit the ice in the NHL this season - defenceman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen who played 19 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets. On the other hand, of the 974 players in the NHL this season, four were Danish.

Norway may take a note of one thing regarding the quartett of Frans Nielsen, Mikkel Bødker, Jannik Hansen, Peter Regin:

The way up seems to go through Sweden.

All, except Hansen, have played in the Elitserien, and even the 23-year-old Herlev-native spent a season with the Malmö Redhawks’ under-18 team, across the Östersund strait.

Last season, there were nine Norwegians and five Danes in the twelve-team Swedish Elitserien.

Per-Åge Skrøder became the first Norwegian to win the league’s scoring title - as well as the Håkan Loob Trophy as the league’s leading goal scorer - collecting 30+29=59 points in 55 games for Modo in Örnsköldsvik. Skrøder’s linemates were former NHLer Niklas Sundström, and another Norwegian national team player, Mats Zuccarello Aasen.

Defenceman Stefan Espeland was the third Norwegian in Modo last season. Espeland moved to Linköping as a 16-year-old in 2005, and played junior hockey with the club. He played his first Elitserien games with Modo on 2007-08, though.

A few months ago, Färjestad won the Swedish championship with three Norwegian players in the lineup.

Defenceman Jonas Holøs scored 2+2=4 points in the five final games, Anders Bastiansen collected team’s fourth-highest ten points in 15 playoff games, tied with legendary Jörgen Jönsson and just two points behind the team’s leading scorer Per Åslund.

Marius Holtet, a grinder, was the third Norwegian on the championship team, and while he played less than the others, he also scored the 3-2 overtime winner in Game 4.

In the World Championship, Norway had eight players from Sweden, Denmark six. (Denmark also had a Swedish head coach, Per Bäckman.)

Next season, there will probably be even more Norwegians and Danes in Sweden. Frölunda announced already in April that they had signed two Norwegian players, Mathis Olimb and Martin Röymark.

18-year-old Andreas Martinsen signed with Leksand in Swedish Allsvenskan, and last week, Modo announced the signing of 17-year-old Sondre Olden, a highly touted prospect whom experts consider as the best forward to come out of Norway since Espen Knutsen.

(Knutsen played several season’s with Stockholm’s Djurgården in the 1990s, before leaving for the NHL. He is currently head coach of Vålerenga, Norwegian champion in 2009.)

Olden scored 26 points in 24 games with Manglerud Stars as the club got promoted to the Norwegian GET-ligan, and added 67 points in 19 games with the under-20 team.

With Olden, the total number of Norwegians in Modo is… six.

The club had namely earlier signed defenceman Alexander Bonsaksen and forward Kristian Forsberg, both of whom played with Team Norway in the 2009 World Championship in Switzerland.

In Vancouver, Norway may well have a team with half of the players coming out of Swedish leagues. And for now, that’s a sign of progress.

Notebook:
  • Swedish Elitserien has decided to join other top nations and use a two-referee system as of 2009-10. To ensure the quality of officiating and recruitment of new referees, the change will be made in three stages. In 2009-10, the new system will be used in 100 regular season games and the playoffs, in 2010-11, the number of games will go up to 200, and by 2011-12, all games will have two referees and two linesmen, the league announced.
  • Sweden’s official All-Star team for 2008-09 – for Swedish players that have played in Swedish, European, or Russian leagues or played with Team Sweden - is as follows:
    Goaltender: Jonas Gustavsson, Färjestad
    Defencemen: Kenny Jönsson, Rögle; Marcus Ragnarsson, Djurgården
    Forwards: Linus Omark, Luleå; Rickard Wallin, Färjestad; Mattias Weinhandl, Dynamo Moscow.
  • Modo’s Victor Hedman was voted Elitserien’s Rookie of the Year.
  • Håkan Loob has taken a leave of absence from his position as the CEO of Färjestad “to investigate future opportunities for the Swedish league”.

RISTO PAKARINEN


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