GROUP B: NORWAY
2013 finish: Promoted to top division
2013 round-robin record Division I (Group A): 4-1-0-0, 19 GF/7 GA
Yahoo! Canada Sports has asked North American-based players, some of whom are playing in the world junior championship, to break down their national teams.
This marks the first time since 2011 that Norway will be competing in the top tier of the world junior tournament after winning the Group A Division I championship last year in France.
In a group with host Sweden, Russia, Switzerland and Finland, the Norwegians will have their work cut out for them. The odds of Norway winning the world juniors are listed by bookmakers at 500-1.
They’re in tough and they know it.
“We know these teams are very good and at a higher level than us,” said Norwegian defenceman Tallak Lyngset, who plays for the USPHL’s Islanders IHC. “When we step on the ice we’ve got to have a big team mentality and try to play our game. We all have strong defensive play, strong box play - so our strength will definitely be our defence.”
Most of the Norway’s players are either playing professionally at home or in leagues of nearby Sweden and Finland. The core of this team has been together for sometime having played at under-18s and last year’s under-20 tournaments. Only two players on their team – Lyngset and forward Jorgen Karterud of the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds – are over in North America.
“We have a lot of forwards that are used to playing at a high level of hockey,” said Lyngset. “They’re used to playing against big guys and fast hockey – more importantly, they’re used to the Olympic-sized rinks as compared to the Canadians and Americans. Jorgen (Karterud) plays in the OHL and he’s taken a huge step over the last couple of years, so he’s going to be one of our top forwards.”
Realistically for Norway, the main goal will be to avoid relegation back down to Division I Group A. For the 2014 world junior championship in Malmo, Sweden, the IIHF has changed the relegation format so the bottom two teams will now play a best-of-three series to determine who is demoted.
“That’s our goal,” said Lyngset, of staying in the top tier. “We’ve talked about this a lot with our coaches. We are here to stay; we’re not going back down. We would be the first Norwegian team that would stay in the A Group – so that would be historic and that’s our goal for sure.”
One of the good things about playing in neighbouring Sweden, is that Norway should get a lot of fan support. Lyngset says many friends and families will be making the trek to see the team play, which is always appreciated when David is going up against the Goliaths.
Offensively, Norway graduated its top two scorers from the 2013 Group A, Division I tournament – Andreas Heier and Jonas Knutsen. Moving up to the top division, they’ll be lead by Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Markus Soberg and Karterud. Forwards Andreas Klavestad and Martin Ronnild are also on the NHL radar, having been ranked as “C” skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Service.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Forward Markus Soberg (Frolunda Jr., SuperElit) As a sixth-round pick of the Blue Jackets in 2013, Soberg is the only NHL drafted player on the team. The 18-year-old winger was one of the top scorers for the Norwegians in the DI tournament with one goal and five assists in five games. Known as a fast, slick skater with good hands, he has a good shot and has scored 16 goals and 10 assists with Swedish club Frolunda’s junior team. He’s the younger brother of goalie Steffen Soberg, a Washington Capitals prospect.
Forward Jorgen Karterud (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL) A versatile forward, the 19-year-old member of the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds has a good mix of size and skill. Listed at 6-foot-5, 194-pounds, Karterud has six goals and seven assists in 24 OHL games. He skates well for his size and has adapted steadily to the North American style of play, so he isn’t afraid to get physical.
Defenceman Mattias Norstebo (Brynas/Brynas J20, SHL/SuperElit) Despite being undersized for defenceman at 5-foot-10, 176-pounds, Norstebo is as been able to his own playing professionally in the top league in Sweden (SHL) for Brynas. An excellent skater and smart with the puck, expect to see the 18-year-old log a lot of time on the Norwegian power play.
MUST WIN GAME: Relegation Game 1 (Jan. 2, 5 a.m. EST)
Being in Group B – the toughest group by far – does the Norwegians no favours, but let’s not kid ourselves, the relegation round is where they'll have to shine. As mentioned above, Norway’s main goal is to avoid being sent back to DI Group A. If they want to stay with the big boys they’ll need two wins in the relegation round to do it. The first of the three-game series is Jan. 2 – where, barring any upsets, they’ll likely face Germany who are over on Canada’s side of the draw. If they can take that first game, they’ll get some much needed confidence heading into the second game on Jan. 3 (10 a.m. EST).