Although Norway is better-known as a soccer nation, its hockey program has grown by leaps and bounds over the last year.
The IIHF currently ranks Norway’s men’s hockey program 18th in the world (up from 21st in 2004) and the national women’s hockey program 15th. With the way things have been going lately, those rankings could improve even more in 2006.
At the 2005 IIHF World Junior Championship Division I competition in Sheffield, England, the Norwegians successfully overcame Austria, France, Great Britain, Italy and Kazakhstan, to earn a berth in the 2006 IIHF World Juniors at the elite level. Norway won all five of its games, outscoring its opponents 29-12.
In April 2005, the Norwegian senior team was also promoted to elite division status, and it will compete at the 2006 IIHF World Championship in Latvia. That’s a privilege the nation hasn’t experienced since the 2001 tournament in Germany. There, the Norwegians placed 15th out of 16 teams.
In Division I play, the team placed first in its pool with four wins and one tie while facing China, Great Britain, Hungary, Japan, and Poland. It amazingly outscored its opponents 43-8, including a 25-1 victory over China.
As a result of the recent successes, there are plans to expand the national hockey program even more in the years ahead. Right now, there are only 35 rinks throughout the country for about 7,000 hockey players. Plans currently exist to build 10 to 15 more rinks, around the country, in the next four to six years.
“It’s getting more popular. We have started a process with the Norwegian Ice Hockey Association to build up our hockey programs with money from the Norwegian government,” said Jan Petter Selvik, team leader of Norway’s World Junior entry.
In another positive development, Norway’s U-18 hockey team will take part in the elite division of the 2006 IIHF World U18 Championship in Sweden. Their opponents during the Round Robin will include Sweden, Canada, Slovakia, and Finland. The tournament will be played in April.
But in terms of what could be a great year for Norwegian hockey, it all starts with some form of success right here in British Columbia.
“The goal for us here in this tournament is to stay in the A group, and to play our best,” said Selvik.
To remain at the elite level, teams must place eighth or better. The teams that place ninth and tenth are relegated to the Division I tournament for 2007, and can only return to the elite level in 2008 if they finish at the top of their group at that tournament.