After a 15-year absence from IIHF World Junior Championship play, Team Norway has one goal in mind at this year’s tournament: avoid relegation. The Norwegians qualified for this year’s tournament on the strength of a perfect showing at the 2005 Division 1 tournament. Team Norway finished with a perfect 5-0 record at the tournament, and will now look to rebound from its 0-7 showing at 1991’s World Juniors in Saskatoon. With only 35 rinks and 7,000 registered players nationwide, Norwegian team officials are relying on this year’s squad to keep the country in contention for a spot in next year’s tournament.
Coaching: Head Coach Petter Thoresen will guide Team Norway here in Vancouver, and he’s joined by Assistant Coach Anders Blegeberg. Thoresen, who is regarded as a hockey legend in his home country, will look to employ defensive strategies against the powerful upper-echelon teams his squad will face in British Columbia. Though his team is smaller in stature, it makes up for lack of size with formidable, all-around team speed. Thoresen and his staff should look to employ quick breakouts out of the defensive end, and a rapid transition game to achieve success.
Goal: Ruben Smith is expected to shoulder the brunt of the work in the Norwegian nets. A starter with Storhamar IL Hamar’s junior squad in Norway, the 18-year-old will need to be on top of his game in virtually every contest he starts. In the 2004-2005 season with Storhamar, Smith posted a 3.59 GAA and an .873 save percentage in 14 games. Lars Haugen, who plays with Sweden’s Leksands IF, will serve as Norway’s backup goalie.
Defence: Jonas Holos will be Norway’s defensive anchor in the backend. Playing for IHK Sparta Sarpsburg’s junior club in the Norwegian League, Holos is a smooth-skating, patient defenceman with exceptional on-ice vision. Look for him to lead Team Norway’s power play. This group does feature some big defencemen who could give opposing forwards trouble. Henrik Borge stands an imposing 6-4, and Dennis Sveum and Jonas Nygard are also both over six feet tall.
Forward: Team Norway’s coaching staff has earmarked Mathis Olimb, Kristian Forsberg and Joakim Jensen as the squad’s primary offensive threats. Olimb led Team Norway with nine points in five games at last year’s Division I competition, and what he lacks in size, he makes up for in pure goal-scoring ability. Kristian Forsberg, while not related to Sweden’s Peter Forsberg, has a few similarities to the Tre Kronor superstar. Norway’s Forsberg plays a solid two-way game, and he’s not afraid to venture into high traffic areas in the corners or in the slot. Jensen, an 18-year-old right winger with the QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar, has put up an impressive 24 points in just 31 games this season.
Projected Results: Team Norway will be in tough playing against the top-tier countries in this year’s World Junior tournament, but if key players perform to full potential, the Norwegians could surprise some people. They’ll battle it out with the likes of Latvia and Switzerland to avoid relegation. Norway’s goaltending tandem of Smith and Haugen will have to shine, along with the team’s offensive contributors, to avoid another potential 15-year absence from the top level of the IIHF World Junior Championship.