But Dalen and her teammates are still chasing one big dream: to play international ice hockey at the top level.
Norway was part of the early days of the Women’s Worlds, having competed in the 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1997 tournaments with a sixth place as best finish. But the women’s team never qualified for the Olympics. Between 1997 and 2003 it moved down from the top to the third tier of women’s ice hockey. Since 2007 Norway has been playing constantly in the second tier. Dalen and her teammates missed out on promotion to the top division being ranked one place behind the promoted teams in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2019.
“It’s been a goal for Norway for a very long time now. We almost made it a couple of times. For everyone on the team who has seen the ups and downs and never quite made it to the top division it would be huge. We’ve proven that hard work is benefitting in the end. It would be really fun,” Dalen says.
Dalen started hockey back home with Ringerike and Valerenga Oslo before playing two years for Linkoping in Sweden. She has been playing back in Europe since graduating at the University of North Dakota in 2015 moving from the NCAA to Djurgarden Stockholm after her four years in the U.S.
“The Swedish league improved a lot during those four years but it’s a different game, bigger rink. The staff around college hockey is much bigger. But the game has improved a lot,” she says.
She won the Swedish title in 2017 with Djurgarden and moved back to Linkoping last year. Dalen is one of 13 players from the Norwegian women’s national team at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A who plays her club hockey in Sweden. The move to the neighbour where hockey is bigger is a common pattern also in men’s hockey.
“It’s smaller in Norway especially comparing to the States and Sweden. We have a lot fewer players but we see a shift now where the bigger clubs are taking more responsibility and the federation is putting more effort in, giving us better opportunities to play and perform,” Dalen describes women’s hockey in her country. “It’s growing. As players we feel it’s growing slowly but we know things take time. It’s small steps.”
Norwegian sports were hit harder than most other European countries by the pandemic. While top-level and professional leagues and national teams could still operate in many countries, sports came temporarily to a halt in Norway even at the top level. For the players of the Norwegian women’s national team it was thus a comeback season with the Olympic Qualification and now the tournament in Angers, France.
“We haven’t had camps in a while so it’s nice to be back. The last one was in 2019 and then we didn’t meet up for a year. It was a struggle for us with the government being that strict but we feel it’s the right thing to do when there’s a pandemic. There’s bigger things than just us. It’s fun to be back and we’re happy to be able to play but it’s sad that our games got cancelled for so long,” she says.
Despite the long breaks for the national team and the domestic league it didn’t affect the roster too much.
“Not that many players stopped but it was hard for people in Norway to play sports. Some part of the training was hurt but overall many girls wanted to play another year and most teammates are here,” she says.
Most teammates are back and not just them. At the Dalens, hockey is also a family affair. Her parents are with her in Angers helping the team: mother Randi Aase as GM, father Morten Dalen as equipment manager. And her younger brother Nikolai played many years in the top-two men’s leagues for Ringerike IHK, also Andrea Dalen’s first ice hockey club.
France, Norway and Austria in race for promotionIn the battle for promotion the Norwegians started with a 2-1 win against Slovakia and a 7-1 victory against the Netherlands before suffering a setback in a 4-3 overtime loss to Austria.
“We always have tough games against Austria and they play very well against us, they have a lot of speed. We got caught a little bit standing still not moving the puck as well as we wanted to,” she looks back the day after. “It was a battle, it was fun to play but not fun to lose those points we wanted to bring home. We just have to keep going, it’s a long tournament and the teams are close.”
It’s close indeed. France and Norway lead the standings with seven points both with an overtime loss to Austria. The Austrians meanwhile are the only undefeated team but they had all three wins in overtime or shootout and thus six points.
The tournament winner – and promoted team for the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship – will be decided in the last game tonight between host France and Norway. For both teams it’s a winner-takes-it-all game.
They have it in their own hands but need to win in regulation time to claim first place on their own. If Austria beats Slovakia in regulation time in the early game, the Austrians can become tournament winner if the France-Norway game ends in a tie after 60 minutes. This scenario would give Austria gold and the OT/SO winner of France-Norway would have to settle for silver.
“Our last game against France will be a big one. It will be fun. A lot of people will be watching and we always play hard against France and we want to beat them. We had a lot of exhibition games and tournaments against them. It’s kind of a rivalry for us,” said Dalen ahead of the game that will be played in the sold-out IceParc in Angers.
“They’re playing physical. We have to play 60 minutes, have traffic to the net, move the puck from the neutral zone to the offence pretty quickly. The fans will make a lot of noise, so we need to communicate in a good way on the ice as well.”