Veterans like Anders Bastiansen and Mats Trygg will have their work cut out for them on a Norwegian team hoping to replicate last year’s success.
Since 2006, Norway has managed to reach the quarter-finals three times and have finished lower than 11th only once – in 2007 in Moscow when they finished 14th in a scare that threatened their top level status. The expectations on Roy Johansen’s men this year are somewhere in between a new quarter-final berth and a relegation scare, affected by the fact that several key players has been forced out of the tournament due to injury.
Norway will rely heavily on veterans to carry the load for the team in Minsk. The team could surprise if they can find players ready to step up and assume bigger roles to fill the shoes of absent stars like Patrick Thoresen and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. For Norway, that is a challenge they have to take on and face eventually, as the have large group of players well into their thirties.
Lars Haugen is the likely number one choice once again. The 27-year-old Haugen completed his second season with KHL’s Dynamo Minsk this year, posting a 2.63 goals against average and a 91.0 save percentage and has been a solid performer for Norway. He is joined by big youngster Lars Volden, who has been the back-up in the last two IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship after coming up through Norway’s U18 and U20 teams, and the smallish Steffen Søberg from GET Ligaen’s Valerenga Oslo.
The fact that Jonas Holos and Mats Trygg will suit up for Norway is good news for a team that will surely miss the physical presence and leadership of Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, who will miss the tournament due to a knee injury. In his absence, Holos will arguably be more important than ever. And that’s saying a lot, since the all-around defenceman averaged almost 28 minutes of ice-time per game in last year’s tournament.
Veteran Mats Trygg has been a mainstay on the Norwegian power play for years and his contribution is a key to Norway’s success at the tournament. Trygg, who returned to the Norwegian league after 15 years abroad, is one of five defencemen from the Get Ligaen on the team.
Two players, Nicolai Bryhnisveen and Stefan Espeland are making their championship debuts.
Captain Anders Bastiansen and Mathis Olimb, voted as Norway’s best players along with defencmenan Mats Trygg at last year’s IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, will once again be important for the Norwegian attack.
Olimb will provide much-needed skill and flair for an offensive squad that has a lot of tenacity and drive. With Norway, Olimb has 12 assists from his last 19 games in the Olympics and World Championships. Younger brother Ken Andre Olimb, will also be interesting to follow after a solid debut season with Dusseldorf in the DEL, where he recorded 26 points in 39 games.
Also, it’s hard to talk about Norway without mentioning veteran now 35-year-old winger Per-Age Skroder, who still plays with a chip on his shoulder and is an offensive threat, although his goal scoring with MODO has declined in recent years.
Head Coach Roy Johansen enters his 13th IIHF World Championship as Norway coach and has in that time established them in the top division, marking the first time in Norwegian hockey history that the team has competed for the World Championships gold medal nine years in a row.
Although Norway posted a strong result in last year’s World Championship, reaching a top eight finish after losing to the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals, the key objective this year is to survive.
Injuries to key players and others, like Skroder and Bastiansen, who has seen their offensive production decline makes a new quarterfinal berth seem a bit far-fetched considering that they’ll likely have to edge out teams like Slovakia and Denmark for the fourth spot.