STOCKHOLM – After losing three straight games to start the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, Norway finished strong with four wins in its last five games, outscoring their opponents 29-13.
Norway enjoyed much success in 2011 and 2012 as they reached the quarter-finals both years. There is no doubt that as the program continues to grow and players develop, Norway’s goal is not simply to survive but to thrive.
Lars Haugen has succeeded longtime favourite Pål Grotnes to become the starting goaltender. Haugen has been the workhorse starting 13 of the last 14 games. In that time he’s registered seven wins. Haugen played for Dynamo Minsk in the Kontinental Hockey League, seeing action in 22 games and posting a 1.81 goals against average. At 26, there is every reason to believe that Haugen will remain a fixture and his best hockey perhaps still ahead.
Lars Volden (20) and Steffen Søberg (19) are on the roster but still so young and inexperienced in World Championship play.
Norway’s defence, though talented, needs to improve in their end of the ice. Opponents averaged 30 shots on goal last spring leading Lars Haugen to have to come up big, especially in early games against Sweden and Russia when he faced 90 total shots in those games.
As the national team stalwart, Mats Trygg is the leader on defence. He led blueliners with five goals in 2012 in what was perhaps his finest performance at the World Championships since his debut in 1999. His +6 was also a personal best and the first time in elite level play that he finished a plus player. At 36, Trygg is definitely a veteran who has seen it all in international action.
On the other end, Jonas Holøs is just getting started and coming into his own. Holøs has been on the senior men’s team since he was 18 and now at the ripe old age of 25 has established himself as the next generation of Norwegian hockey. He followed up a strong showing at the 2011 World Championship with a four goal and nine point effort last year.
Swedish Elitserien performers Alexander Bonsaksen and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen will contribute. Tollefsen, who spent three years in the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets, is the most physical of Norway’s defencemen.
GET Ligaen products Henrik Solberg, Daniel Sørvik and Henrik Ødegaard are also tapped to see ice after a season in domestic league competition.
Norway brings back its top forwards who were responsible for their offensive success last year. Five players averaged a point per game at the 2012 World Championships and all return for this tournament.
Patrick Thoresen turned in an MVP performance at the 2012 World Championship, scoring seven goals and 18 points. This included a hat trick and six-point performance against Germany. Per-Åge Skrøder was second in goal scoring behind Thoresen with five goals and led the team with 25 shots on goal.
Morten Ask came into his own as a playmaker, notching eight assists. Anders Bastiansen has consistently been a reliable forward and should add continued depth. Robin Dahlstrøm is making his World Championship debut. The 23-year-old has scored 25 goals over the last two years in Sweden’s second-tier league Allsvenskan.
Norway was exceptional on the power play, thanks to its top special teams units. Norway tied for the tournament lead with 12 power play goals and finished third in power play efficiency at 34%. Of concern was an injury to Marius Holtet but he will be ready for the opener against Slovenia.
A three time Olympian as a player for Norway, Roy Johansen has been the head coach of national team since 2001. In that time, he’s done much to elevate Norway’s standing among the elite hockey nations.
When he took over the team, Norway had been relegated into Division I. Since being back in the top group, Johansen has taken his team to the quarter-finals three times. Last year they finished eighth overall and in 2011 they finished sixth – the two best showings in the top group. Known for his emphasis on physical exercise, especially close to the World Championship, Johansen will bring a team ready to compete and looking to not only qualify for the Playoff Round but to move to new heights.
Norway has greatly improved in so many areas since being among the elite level of this international competition. They have developed and introduced players who have brought youth, energy and continuity in key areas.
Norway can certainly compete for a spot in the quarter-finals again but they must tighten up their defence while continuing to stoke the offensive engine enough to continue capitalizing on their chances to score.