STAVANGER, Norway – He is not known for his scoring instincts in big names. But whoever tipped for Snorre Hallem to score the Norwegian championship winning goal would win gold as well with the bookmakers.
The 34-year-old forward saved his lone goal in 15 playoff games for a special moment. His overtime rebound goal broke a 3-3 tie and ensured that Stavanger Oiler won their second straight league title on home ice.
“The place just exploded,” Hallem described the first thing he noticed when seeing the puck end up behind the goal line. “This is just incredibly fabulous. The atmosphere at the arena was already great but after the goal the crowd was simply amazing.”
Playoff series often create those unexpected playoff heroes. The 2012/13 Norwegian GET Ligaen season was no difference. While the big names did come up big throughout the playoffs, it was Snorre Hallem who grabbed the headlines in the end and with that silenced any critics that were claiming he was past his prime earlier in the season.
The rock solid, yet unflashy and at times undervalued forward represented his country during three World Championships. When faced with critical questions earlier in the season he responded that he would step up during the post season. And so he did almost five minutes into overtime.
The goal settled an eventful game in which Stavanger was dominating the play but were facing a 2-0 deficit against Vålerenga Oslo halfway through the second period thanks to goals from Steffen Thoresen and Tyler Donati.
The tie seemed to change when the continuous pressure on the goal of Steffen Søberg finally paid off with three unanswered goals. Brede Csiszar, however, silenced the packed brand-new DNB Arena when he tied the game up at three early in the third period.
In the end, the 4,500 fans could continue their festivities that they started already well before the opening faceoff thanks to Hallem’s overtime goal and to the white towels that were distributed and caused a white sea to wave through the arena.
A repeat of last year’s title win was not on the cards at the start of the series. Like last year Stavanger made it to the finals but this time they did so as the second-seeded team facing a Vålerenga team that topped the league after the regular season.
The first game of the series set the tone with a clear 5-1 victory for Vålerenga. That was the proverbial wake-up call the golden boys of 2012 needed. The team rebounded with three straight victories of their own (4-1, 4-1, 5-1) to take a commanding 3-1 lead. Their first match-point was ruled out due to a 3-1 loss in game 5, but the overtime win in game 6 avoided a tricky game 7 to be necessary.
It also gave team owner Tore Christiansen another opportunity to dress up in his golden suit and treat his players wearing golden helmets a champagne shower. Last year Christiansen rewarded his players with a trip to Las Vegas. It’s unsure yet what the destination will be this year. But he already hinted his team will go for the threepeat next season.
Hallem: “We had a bad start of the series but came back brilliantly after that. It’s a lot of fun to play in this new arena.” It was built right after winning last year’s championship.
The 2013 GET Ligaen title also marks the end of an era of two legends. First of all Stavanger Oiler captain Juha Kaunismäki announced his retirement from hockey after wearing the black and white of the team for ten seasons.
“I’ve been part of some fantastic years with the Oilers and it’s great to end on a high note with a gold medal around my neck,” the Finnish-born but Norwegian-naturalised defenceman admitted. He might be missed on the ice but will return off the ice. “I will be joining the youth department to help with the development of future Oilers.”
Another Norwegian hockey legend hinted a retirement. Tore Vikingstad has been one of Norway’s best known players ever together with Espen Knutsen. Since his return to Norway two seasons ago he’s been hampered by injuries and has been limited to just 33 games. Back problems prevented him taking part in last year’s championship run and convinced him to give it another go this season.
Overcoming the pains, Vikingstad survived the post season on talent and vision registering two goals and eight assists in 14 games, including the assist on the Snorre Halle goal.
“That assist could be the last thing I’ve done for the Oilers,” Vikingstad told the media after the game. “I haven’t made up my mind yet but if so, this is the perfect ending,” he said referring to retirement plans.
The loss of the two veterans will surely be felt by the Stavanger Oilers in their quest for a third straight title. All of a sudden the new team’s senior is a 34-year-old player that until a few days ago was not used to being in the spotlights.
2013 has been a special year for the Stavanger Oilers, but 2013 also marked the year it is finally time for Snorre.