U20 World Junior Championships Preview: Team Norway

Maple Leafs prospect Sondre Olden will be relied upon heavily for Norway at the 2011 IIHF U20 World Junior Championships in Buffalo and Niagara, NY (Dec 26-Jan 5). (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Norway is one of the two teams that were promoted from Division 1 last year, and their placement in Group B, AKA the Group of Death, puts them in a tough spot.  Even a single upset might not be enough for Norway, who probably will have to pull an upset at the right time.  Norway is not a common sight at the top level, who are making their first appearance at the championship level since being blown out of the 2006 tournament (0-6, outscored 38-6).  In their 2010 IIHF U20 ranking (and preliminary 2011), they were in 15th place, and 13th in the combined U20+U18 ranking.  They've had better showings at the U18 level, and that could be finally coming through at the U20s, as they have either been in the championship group or won promotion to it the past three U18s (and will be at the top level in 2011 as well).  This marginal improvement also coincides with about the time that some of the top Norwegian prospects starting playing professional or junior hockey in Sweden. 

This mini-Norwegian invasion of Sweden has seen a steady flow of Norwegian players drafted or signed by NHL teams.  In recent years, Jonas Holos, Mats Zucarello-Aasen, Sondre Olden, and Mats Froshaug have been signed or drafted from Swedish clubs, further indicating a bit of an uptick in Norwegian talent (Scott Winkler, a Norwegian defensemen out of the USHL, was also picked in 2008).  So even though it's been five years in between appearances at the top level, there is reason to believe that hockey is starting to take hold in Norway.  Combined with Denmark's strong improvement, Sweden is no longer alone amongst the Scandinavian countries in regards to top level hockey, though they still have a good lead on their brethren. 

Probably because of their tough situation to stay in the elite group, Norway has gone with an older group here.  The only first time draft eligible players in the group is goaltender Stefan Søberg, who probably won't make the final roster, and a pair of late 1992 born defensemen (Jens Urik Bacher and Adrian Saxrud Danielsen).  This tournament, therefore, is an opporutnity for those who have been passed over in the draft the past two years to get some exposure. 

Here's a closer look at the group as a whole:

Team Norway
# Player Pos. S/C Ht. Wt. Born Hometown Club
4 Robin Anderson D R 5'10" 179 1991 Fredrikstad Stjernen (NOR)
6 Jens Ulrik Bacher D L 5'11" 183 1992 Asker Frisk Asker (NOR)
17 Simon Viker Brekke RW L 6'2" 183 1991 Oslo Vålerenga (NOR)
3 Nicolai Bryhnisveen D L 5'11" 179 1991 Oslo Lørenskog (NOR)
14 Eirik Børresen W L 5'11" 207 1991 Vang Storhamar (NOR)
8 Adrian Saxrud Danielsen D L 6'2" 192 1992 Hamar Storhamar (NOR)
15 Michael Haga W L 5'10" 161 1992 Asker Luleå J20 (J20 SE)
22 Hans Kristian Hollstedt W L 6'1" 194 1991 Oslo Stjernen (NOR)
12 Rasmus Juell C L 5'12" 198 1991 Oslo Cedar Rapids (USHL)
10 Magnus Lindahl C L 5'8" 170 1991 Oslo Frisk Asker (NOR)
7 Kenneth Madsø D L 5'9" 165 1991 Trondheim Lillehammer (NOR)
16 Torstein Bjåland Nordrum W L 5'11" 196 1991 Bærum Frisk Asker (NOR)
13 Sondre Olden RW L 6'4" 179 1992 Oslo MODO J20 (J20 SE)
27 Daniel Bøen Rokseth D L 6'0" 196 1991 Oslo Manglerud (NOR)
21 Mats Rosseli Olsen LW L 5'11" 176 1991 Oslo Vålerenga (NOR)
11 Petter Røste Fossen W L 6'0" 190 1991 Kongsberg Rosenborg (NOR)
5 Tobias Skaarberg D R 5'9" 176 1991 Sarpsborg Sparta Sarpsborg (NOR)
1 Steffan Søberg G L 5'11" 165 1993 Oslo Manglerud (NOR)
20 Kenneth Sørli Eriksen G L 5'9" 154 1992 Oslo Manglerud II (NOR-2)
9 Andreas Stene C L 6'3" 185 1991 Oslo Kelowna (WHL)
25 Lars Volden G L 6'3" 198 1992 Oslo Blues U20 (Jr A SM-Liiga)
18 Nicolas Weberg W L 5'8" 161 1992 Oslo Shattuck St. Mary's (USHS)

 

Note:  This list of players is taken from Elite Prospects, and it differs a little from one that was on NHL.com a couple of weeks ago.  There is also only 19 skaters on it, so likely one of the other skaters from NHL.com's list is still on this team, I can't find a North American player that would have replaced one of the Norwegian nationals.

As you can see, while there has been inroads made into Sweden, the vast majority of junior hockey players are being done in Norway's relatively weak GET-Ligæn.  There were five players playing in Sweden's J20 SuperElit that were not chosen for this team.  North American participation isn't much of an issue, with only one major junior player and a couple of players looking to join the NCAA system in the next year or two.  Andreas Stene has been a depth forward for Kelowna so far, and shouldn't be a huge factor at the tournament.  Norway's team is quite small as well, and that will be unfortunate going up against Canada, Russia and Sweden.

The team's backbone will have to be Lars Volden, the big goaltender playing in the Espoo Blues' system in Finland.  I asked Eetu Huisman, a Finnish blogger with an interest in prospects about Volden, and while he hadn't seen him play yet, he was able to relay that he was on the same junior team as Vancouver Canucks draft pick Jonathan Iilahti.  In the season so far, Volden had been getting the tougher assignments as they split duties, and had posted similar numbers.  Iilahti was cut from Finland's team before coming over to North America, making him fourth on their U20 depth chart.  Volden will be backed up by Steffan Søberg, who has played twenty-four games as a 17 year old in Norway's top league to date. 

Olden is the big player up front for Norway, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect with great height and good talent, but he's really struggling this year.  I asked Uffe Bodin of Swedish mega-site Hockeysverige.se about his play this year, and here's his description:

Sondre Olden is a very talented forward with a huge upside, but his season with Modo has been a disappointment this far. He hasn't been very good in the junior league and didn't do himself any favours in the three games he played in the Swedish Elite League earlier in the season. He has his work cut out of him in the gym, he's way too thin right now.

Olden is 6'4" but only listed at 179 pounds.  That lack of conditioning might be a reason why he's not succeeding at the top level, but it shouldn't necessarily affect him at the junior level.  This tournament could be a big turnaround for him, either as an awakening about how far he has to come in order to make it in North America, or as a springboard for his season back in Sweden. 

As for the players in Norway, it appears that Mats Rosseli Olsen might be the top junior aged offensive talent there, though none of them have impressive numbers this year.  Petter Røste Fossen is another potential scorer for the team, but they'll probably rely on the non-Norwegian league players, like Olden, Nicolas Weberg, Stene, Michael Haga, and Rasmus Juell. 

On defence, Adrian Saxrud Danielsen will probably provide the offence and run the powerplay, as he is having a very good season so far, outscoring every single forward on this U20 team so far with nine points in 26 games.  It's tough to tell what roles the other players will have just based on stats, but from last year's U20 Division 1 team, Nicolai Bryhnisveen and Robin Anderson are returning, so expect them to be leaned on quite heavily.

Being in a group against Canada, Sweden, Russia, and the Czech Republic, this team will have to somehow upset one of those teams, and likely have that team they beat also face relegation.  That would give them a chance, because it is possible they could beat the two teams that are put in the relegation round from Group A.  But beating both of those teams, in a row, seems unlikely.

Staff:  Jan Petter Selvik (General Manager); Geir Hoff (Head Coach); Pal Guldbrandsen and Jarl Eriksen (Assistant Coaches).

Prediction:  5th in Group B, 10th overall.

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