SOCHI, Russia – After scoring Norway’s first goal against Canada in Olympic hockey competition in 30 years, forward Patrick Thoresen was of two minds about how much fun it was sharing ice with a hockey superpower.
“Yes and no,” he said after Norway’s 3-1 loss Thursday to Canada in the Olympic opener for both teams. “It’s fun to play against the best players in the world, obviously, but it’s not so fun to chase the puck for most of the game.”
Norwegian hockey has had the better part of a good decade under coach Roy Johansen, who is in his 12th year at the helm. After missing out on the Games from 1998 to 2006, Norway has qualified for the last two Olympics and is currently ranked ninth in the world by the IIHF.
The team has quality, although not a lot of it. But it functions well as a unit, with many of the Norwegians having played together for a long time.
Canada blanked Norway 8-0 four years ago in Vancouver. This time it was much closer although the score probably flatters the Norwegians. After a scrappy, even first period, it was pretty much one-way traffic for the last 40 minutes.
“We were playing probably the best team in the world and we got tired—3-1 is a good result but you’re never happy when you lose,” said Thoresen, a former Edmonton Oiler and Philadelphia Flyer who now plays for SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL.
The Olympics are big in the Thoresen family. Father Petter played in five Games from 1980 to 1994 but never got to play on the winning side. Patrick is still waiting for a first victory in his second Olympics, although the Norwegians did take Switzerland to overtime four years ago.
But the 30-year-old forward provided something Thursday for the highlight reel back home.
After a handling error by Canada netminder Carey Price behind the goal, Mathis Olimb stole the puck from under Price’s feet and skated out from behind the net, curving round the faceoff circle before ripping a wrist shot through traffic. Thoresen tipped past Price to cut the Canadian lead to 2-1 just 22 seconds into the third period on the power play.
“Olimb picked it up. I thought he was going to play me right away since Price was out of the net but he kept it and I figured just go to the net and see what happens,” said Thoresen, who is the highest scoring non-Russian player in KHL history.
“He shot it and it tipped by the gloves.”
Informed it was Norway’s first goal against Canada at an Olympic men’s tournament since an 8-1 loss to Canada in 1984 in Sarajevo, Thoresen was surprised.
“It’s been that long,” he said. “All right, it was nice to get one at least.”
Sadly for Norway, Drew Doughty scored a pretty goal on a backhand 85 seconds later to restore Canada’s two-goal cushion.
Thoresen and the nimble Olimb play on Norway’s top line with star Mats Zuccarello, who currently leads the New York Rangers in scoring. But the lone NHL player on the roster found it hard going with Norway skating backwards most of the time.
Captain Ole-Kristian Tollefesen, a former Brandon Wheat King who went on to play for Columbus and Philadelphia in the NHL, threw a couple of big hits in the first. Tollefesen, who now plays in Sweden, was not so noticeable after that.
After being outshot just 9-8 in an even first, Norway managed just two shots in the second while Canada fired 14 at goalie Lars Haugen with two getting past him.
Canada outshot Norway 38-20.
“I’m very satisfied with the first period,” said Johansen. “I think we worked hard and kept the Canadians on the outside.
“Our goalie, who didn’t play a game for eight weeks (due to injury) was ready.”
Added Thoresen: “I didn’t think they were that much better than us in the first (period).”
Johansen said the team suffered in the second when it couldn’t clear the puck and found itself on the back foot taking long shifts.
“We fought hard the rest of the game to keep the numbers down—3-1 is a good result for us,” he said. “I’m satisfied with the guys.
“They fought hard, they blocked shots, they did everything they could.”
Haugen, who plays for Dynamo Minsk, faced 38 shots before a non-sellout crowd of 10,261 at the Bolshoy Ice Palace. The Norwegian starter was helped by the players in front of him.
“They take away the middle,” said Canadian captain Sidney Crosby. “They got five guys packed around the net.
“They’re playing defence as a group and (you’ve) got to take what they give you. They did a good job. They kept a lot of opportunities there, second opportunities, away. But they play defence as a team.”
That’s the plan, said Haugen.
“We were making it difficult for them to get chances,” he said. “That’s how we have to play against these good nations.”
Norway is a small country with more than a few sports above hockey in the pecking order. Its population of just over five million is about that of the Greater Toronto Area.
Canadian fans and the Maple Leaf were hard to miss at the rink where the concession stands offered brioche with cabbage or meat.
Norway took the ice first for warmup, only to have to wait for their pucks to arrive. Price led Canada out several minutes later, just as Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls” finished.
Two Canadian flag were prominently draped over the railings in the seats just to Price’s left in the first. There were many others in the arena, as well as Russian flags and a few Norwegian ones.
With the boards and larger ice surface free of advertisements, it did not look like an NHL game. The dancing girls with pompoms, who appeared on the stairs during breaks, and cavorting mascots also gave it an exotic if somewhat cheesy feel.
Midway through the second, the wave started with many of those getting to their feet waving flags.
Thing got a little more familiar as the team were welcomed back to the ice for the third period to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” As did the kiss cam when it came up on the big screen.
There was a bizarre moment when 37-year-old defenceman Mats Trygg was hurt in front of his own goal. He spent some time on his hands and knees as play continued before he managed to get to his feet.
After a few steps, he went down again. Teammate Jonas Holos ended up giving him a push on the backside, sending him sliding to the door at the Norwegian bench where he was helped off the ice.
Johansen said Trygg had injured a knee but there was no immediate word on how serious it was.
Canada and Norway have now met 24 times at the Olympic Winter Games and world championship with Canada winning 23 times. Norway’s only victory came at the 2000 IIHF world championship in St. Petersburg, when they beat the Canadians 4-3.
Trygg played in that game.
Norway has never finished higher than eighth (in 1972) at the Olympic Winter Games.