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Underdog Norwegians Practising for Olympic Opener Against Team Canada
OLY.005.10
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February 12, 2010
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VANCOUVER – Norway has a couple of things Team Canada won't when the teams face one another in the Olympic men's hockey tournament – a carpenter, teacher and a building superintendent.

Few things better illustrate the wide difference between the squads than an analysis of what the players do to earn money. Team Canada's 23-man roster is earning more than US$120 million in salary from their respective NHL clubs this season; Norway's line-up features a handful of guys that play in the semi-pro domestic league and still hold down other jobs.

“It's a totally different thing,” said Pal Grotnes, Norway's goalie and a carpenter by trade. “We practise in the evening and work during the day.”

Another difference between the teams is the way they're preparing to play one another in the opening game of the Olympic tournament on Tuesday.

The Norwegians are already practising together at Canada Hockey Place – save for Detroit Red Wings defenceman Ole Kristian Tollefsen, their lone NHLer – and beat the UBC Thunderbirds in an exhibition game earlier this week. The Canadians are still scattered around North America playing games for their NHL teams and will have just one practice together as a group before the tournament opener.

It's a game that is being just as heavily anticipated by the Norwegians as it is by the hosts.

“It's great, it can't be better,” said Norwegian forward Tore Vikingstad. “We have no pressure at all. We're just going to go out and try to play our best game, hopefully give them a little bit of fight.

“No one expects anything from us against Canada.”

Norwegian coach Roy Johansen believes his team has greatly benefited from participating in the top level of the IIHF World Hockey Championship for the past four years.

His game plan against Team Canada will be similar to the one every big underdog typically employs – play a tight defensive game, hope to score at least one goal and hang on for a narrow victory.

“We have to be ready, have good defence and hopefully the goalie will have a great day,” said Johansen.

Grotnes has certainly done it before.

At the 2008 world championship in Halifax, he stopped 50 shots against a skilled Canadian team that only managed to edge Norway 2-1. That Canadian squad featured a number of players who will wear the Maple Leaf in Vancouver – Rick Nash, Dany Heatley, Ryan Getzlaf, Eric Staal, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith.

Until now, Grotnes has counted that game among the most memorable of his career. However, the 32-year-old expects it to be eclipsed when he faces Team Canada on the first day of the Olympic tournament.

“I think that the world championship in Canada was the biggest thing I experienced,” said Grotnes. “This is probably 10 times more than that maybe. It's going to be an adventure to play in such a big rink with so many people.

“It's going to be a fun thing to tell my kids when I come back.”

He won't be the only player heading home with a story to tell.

Defenceman Tommy Jakobsen will carry Norway's flag during the opening ceremonies at B.C. Place Stadium on Friday night. That honour came as a huge surprise to the 39-year-old because hockey is nowhere near as popular in the Scandinavian country as biathlon, ski jumping or cross-country skiing.

After spending 15 years as a professional player in Sweden, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Jakobsen returned to his native country this season to play for Lorenskog IK.

Top players in that league typically earn roughly 30,000 Euros (C$43,000) so he's had to take a job renting out apartments to supplement his income. The adjustment hasn't been easy.

“Going from being a professional hockey player has been tougher than I thought,” said Jakobsen. “Now I have to get up and go to work from 8-4, practise at 5 o'clock and I don't get home until 7 or 8 o'clock.”

Grotnes hasn't had to work this year after receiving a grant from the Norwegian government that allowed him to be paid while training at the country's Olympic centre in Oslo.

However, everything will be back to normal when the Games end later this month.

“No carpentry this year,” he said. “But I have to work when I go back.”


For more information:

André Brin
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