Feeling Bull-ish about Norway's prospects
by Andy Potts|21 MAY 2019
Defenceman with a hat trick: Christian Bull.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
After a slow start to the tournament, Norway secured its top-level status in emphatic style when it reeled off back-to-back wins over Austria (5-3) and Italy (7-1). That means the team will return for a 15th successive World Championship campaign in Switzerland next May.

It also means that the steady overhaul of the Norwegian roster can continue. There’s been some impressive continuity on this team down the years, with players like Jonas Holos, Patrick Thoresen, Alexander Bonsaksen and the Olimb brothers among the familiar names returning year after year at this tournament.

But there’s also a new generation coming through. The 2019 roster features a group of five players aged 24 or under, playing alongside the ‘old guard’ of Holos, Bonsaksen and Stefan Espeland. The transition has been steady: only one of the quintet, Christian Kastasul, 22, of Frisk Asker, is a World Championship rookie; the others have quietly been picking up experience on the international stage as Norwegian hockey looks to move into a new era.

Kastasul's fellow 22-year-old, Christian Bull, is back for a second year. In Denmark 12 months ago he had one assist in seven games; this time around he’s already grabbed rather more attention. A hat trick in the win against Austria – he thinks it was his first treble since playing for Lorenskog's under-14 team – was followed an assist in that win over Italy. For a player generally regarded as a stay-at-home defenceman, powering up the scoring charts is quite a novelty.

“Sometimes you just get the bounces,” he smiled. “It’s been really fun for me in these last couple of games.”
The emphasis, though, is very much on the future. Norway’s long stay at the top table is set to continue, but this team looks a little way shy of the years when the Norwegians were contenders for a quarter-final spot. Bull, though, believes in better things to come.

“I think our future is looking good,” he said. “We just need to have some patience. Of course, the big thing is to get more of our players out into the big leagues. With a bit of time and hard work we can get there.”

Two of those young defencemen, Mattais Norstebo (23) and Erlend Lesund (24), have already done that. The pair are now playing in Sweden with Frolunda and Mora IK respectively. But roughly half of Petter Thoresen’s roster in Bratislava is playing in Norway’s GET-Ligaen. Adding experience of playing in Sweden, Finland or beyond could be a big boost for several of these players – and Bull’s sudden scoring flurry might be something that puts him on the radar of clubs abroad.

The man himself, though, is focused on his own progress. “I just have to work harder and smarter every day,” he added. “Norway has a bright future, but we have to work for it.”

Team captain Jonas Holos is one of the more widely experienced players on the Norwegian team. The 31-year-old had a season with Colorado, making 39 NHL appearances, and has also featured in the KHL and the Swedish League before moving to his current role in Switzerland. He’s encouraged by the emergence of Bull and his young colleagues.

“It looks good,” he said. “In the past couple of years some of the older guys got a bit too old and didn’t want to come to the national team any more. So instead we’ve had some young defenceman coming here and proving that they are good enough to play at this level. It’s really promising.

“These guys are humble, they want to learn and right now it looks really good. I try to do my best to help them and, of course, I have something to learn from them too.

“Hopefully there’s more guys to come. We had a few guys on the camp who looked promising and I think there’s going to be more competition for places in the future.”