With a thin roster and the second smallest budget in the league, the northern newcomers were predicted to become easy prey this season. Instead, Narvik has so far proved its doubters wrong. With five wins from their last nine games, including a fine victory against reigning champions Frisk Asker, 5-3, Narvik is currently sitting eight in GET-Ligaen.
“With ten teams in the championship, it would be silly of us to say our goal is to finish ninth or tenth. Now when we have seen the level of the teams, it´s very possible that we can fight for a playoff spot,” said team captain Casper Santanen on Narvik’s quest for a top-eight finish during the regular season.
The inclusion of a team from above the Arctic circle for the 2019/20 season of GET-Ligaen offers makeweight to a league emphatically dominated by teams from the other end of the country. Following Narvik’s promotion last spring, it also considerably pushed the frontier of Norway’s top division above the Arctic circle. Previously, GET-Ligaen’s northernmost team had hailed from Trondheim, 901 kilometres south of Narvik.
A sign in Narvik’s town centre informs of further geographical extremes, with Finland’s Helsinki and St. Petersburg in Russia being closer geographically than Norway’s capital Oslo. With all teams now forced to travel by air, Narvik’s promotion has marked a monumental shift to the clubs in GET-Ligaen. The Olympic town of Lillehammer – 1,247 kilometers further to the south - is as close as Narvik will get to a local derby this season.
Being the oldest hockey club in Northern Norway, Narvik’s year of foundation 1962 is found emblazoned on their merchandise sold in the club shop. But Narvik’s ascent upwards can be traced right at the tail end of 2010 when the town’s indoor ice rink was inaugurated. They joined the Norwegian second tier the following season and soon word started to spread beyond its country borders of a well-known run club playing in front of enthusiastic fans.
Initially, Swedish players and coaches featured prominently before the influx of Finns increased. Having since raised the ante, Narvik turned their scope across the Atlantic with the club’s first non-European signings signed up ahead of their debut in GET-Ligaen.
“This place is very similar to my home, Victoria in British Columbia. Everyone has welcomed me with open arms, so I’ve loved it so far,” said the club’s top scorer, Canadian Wade Murphy, on his smooth transition to smaller arenas and life in Narvik.
Signed around the same time as another 2012 NHL draft pick, American forward Connor Hurley, they have both been instrumental to Narvik’s success in what has been their first shot at glory in European hockey.
“It is a good hockey league, better than I expected, with a lot of good players and teams. I think we are surprising some teams, so we are going in the right direction for sure,” said Murphy, who believes Narvik’s years of experience from jetting back and forth to the south work in their favour this season.
“I don’t think it will be an advantage for our opponents who come up here and are a bit tired after the flight. We take the plane every other week and it helps us keep the team closer together with team bonding being very important for us,” he said.
18-year-old goaltender Herman Nordmark Jenssen is one of the few local lads on the Narvik roster who featured this season. After shifting to hockey eight years ago, he got his debut in GET-Ligaen on home ice when coming on against Stavanger Oilers on 7th October.
“I had previously played football but decided to focus on hockey when the ice rink was opened in Narvik. Since then the interest has grown and grown especially now when playing in GET-Ligaen,” said Nordmark Jenssen.
While games against Sweden’s Kiruna, 178 kilometres across the border, played a vital role at the start of Nordmark Jenssen’s career, his U16 and U20 hockey have been played in the Norwegian junior leagues. Narvik’s closest domestic sparring partner is found in Tromso, 250 kilometres to the north. Home of over 70,000 people, Tromso has Northern Norway´s first indoor ice arena, but additional infrastructure will desperately be required in the region for hockey to continue its growth.
“The challenge up north is ice rinks, both in terms of size and standard. Few of the rinks have room for crowds over 1,000,” said Hakan Sodergren, Director for GET-Ligaen, who has been impressed by what new boys Narvik showed so far in Norway’s top flight.
“They play positive hockey and are exciting newcomers. So it’s been very positive, both out on the ice as well as in the stands. We have opened a window to the north and got new blood and ideas into our league,” said Sodergren.
Despite already having built up a small cushion in the race for a place in the playoffs, Narvik remains with their skates firmly on the ice, well aware of potential twists and turns along the way before the end of the regular season on 7th March.
“The players have started to buy into our way of playing and we have a very good harmony within the roster. But we need to continue to be humble and keep working hard. There are still a lot of games left to play,” said the club’s Sports Director Persson.