GRAND FORKS, USA – Normally, Andrea Dalen from Norway and Josefine Jakobsen from Denmark share an apartment and play together at the University of North Dakota. This week they will play on opposing sides as both their national teams aim to qualify for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
Both players came together after leaving their home countries to first play on different club teams in Sweden, before moving on to college hockey in the U.S.
Jakobsen, 21, and Dalen, 20, both joined the University of North Dakota in 2011 and play their second year on one of the most international women’s hockey teams in North America.
Both are doing pretty well. Jakobsen is an offensive leader. She notched 36 points (14 goals, 22 assists) in 28 games and is ranked third in points and goals on her team only behind U.S. national team stars and twin sisters Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux. Dalen is eighth in scoring on her team with seven points (4+3).
Playing in the U.S. has always been Jakobsen’s dream.
“The women’s college league is the best league for women. In order to develop further as a player, there was no doubt that the U.S. college league was the only option for me,” said the Aalborg native, who also played football before fully focusing on hockey.
“In general just to get the opportunity to go to the U.S. and get the experience, when I got the offer I couldn’t refuse it. Getting an education while playing hockey at a high level suited me well, even though it’s sometimes tough to combine.”
The team’s Swedish assistant coach Peter Elander had already known Jakobsen, who studies physical education exercise science, fitness and wellness, for years when the offer was made. The development the women’s ice hockey team made with an international approach impressed her, as did the facilities at the state-of-the-art Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Also for Dalen the trip to Sweden and the U.S. started at Elander’s camp and she never regretted the step to North Dakota.
“I have played there for almost two years now and I love every day of it. It’s a great place to develop and create memories for life,” Dalen said. Same as Jakobsen she played for women’s teams and boys’ teams in her native country before moving forward abroad.
“Today we have six players and one coach from Europe. I think it’s good for a team to be international and it gives us an opportunity to learn a lot from other styles of play and about different cultures both on and off the ice.”
Both players also collected international experience already early in their careers by representing Denmark and Norway respectively in lower divisions of the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program, but they haven’t played at the top level with their national teams yet.
This could change soon. Norway, 10th in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking, and Denmark, 19th, both made it to the Final Olympic Qualification and are seeded in Group C in Poprad along with host Slovakia and Japan. The winner of the tournament will earn a ticket to the Sochi Olympics next year, same as the winner of Group D in Weiden with host Germany, Kazakhstan, the Czech Republic and China. The top-six nations – Canada, USA, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden and Russia – are already pre-qualified.
The two women are only one tournament away from realizing the big dream. Only three games divide their teams from getting a ticket to Sochi. For the two roommates, who communicate in their Scandinavian languages at home, it’s a special situation.
“We have talked about the Olympic Qualification. Recently it has happened more often than usual because we are both excited to go,” Jakobsen said. “Andrea and I have built a really good relationship and I want the best for Andrea and Team Norway, but for that one game they better watch out. As soon we are on the ice everything is forgotten and we both have business for each of our countries to take care of. It’s going to be a special experience for us and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Dalen shares similar feelings.
“Josefine Jakobsen is a good person and I love to live with her since we get along very well. She is a really good hockey player and reads the play before it happens,” she said about her roommate.
“There hasn’t been any serious teasing, and we both know that it will be a good game. On the ice we are on different teams and I am going to do what it takes for my team to win. And she will do the same for her team. I wish her the best of luck and want her to succeed in every game, but I wish for my team to beat her team. It will be special to play each other, but I’m excited and ready to go!”
While Andersen and Dalen share many things, the circumstances and preconditions for the teams are totally different. Denmark had to battle through two rounds to make it to the Final Olympic Qualification while Norway was set for the final stage from the beginning as one of the favourites.
The Norwegian women already played in the last round of the Olympic Qualification for Turin 2006 and Vancouver 2010, both time in China, and both time they fell short. For Norway it would be the first Olympic participation with a women’s hockey team while Denmark has never made it to the Olympics in ice hockey, men or women.
“The Olympic Qualification is very important. It has been four years since we lost the qualification in China and started our journey towards Sochi 2014,” Dalen said.
Their last game on Sunday evening against Slovakia, which made it to Vancouver 2010, might eventually decide about the ticket to Sochi.
“Our chances this year are good. We have worked hard as a team, and we have had a good development in all aspects of our game both off and on the ice,” Dalen said. “We have a strong team with a lot of desire and we want to go all the way. It won’t be easy and since we only play each team once, everything can happen. We have both lost and won against each of the opponents before, so the team that is sharpest and wants it the most is going to win.”
The Danish women’s national team on the other side has been the Cinderella story of the Olympic Qualification that involved 20 women’s teams and 24 men’s teams.
Because of their low ranking, the Danes had to start already in the first of three stages. In October they prevailed in Barcelona against Croatia, Hungary and Spain and continued their winning streak as the lowest-seeded team of the Olympic Pre-Qualification Group F in Valmiera where they beat host Latvia, Austria and Italy in order to advance to the Final Olympic Qualification this week.
A qualification for the 19th-ranked Danish team to the eight-team Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament in Sochi would be one of the biggest upsets in the young history of women’s hockey.
Thus, it’s an event Jakobsen and her fellow Danes go to as an underdog with little pressure.
“Norway has worked for this final round for the last four years while we didn’t expect to make it that far,” Jakobsen said.
“With a small budget and not a lot of camps during the season I think we have done a big accomplishment by making it to the final qualification round. It shows that we have a young team with a huge potential. Hopefully it helps us to get more attention so we can get more funding to develop the team in the future.”
“It’s going to be a huge experience for us and it’s definitely not going to be easy. We just want to go out there. We have the feeling that none of the teams should underestimate us. It’s going to be a fun experience and I really like that we can just go out there and play without any pressure. We can only surprise.”
All Final Olympic Qualification tournaments for the men’s and women’s hockey teams will be played from Thursday to Sunday this week. For Norway the event in Poprad starts on Thursday afternoon against Japan while Denmark will face the top-seeded host Slovakia in the late game.