Thursday, 8 May 2008

Norwegian Scare

Normally, when people think of hockey nations, they don't include the country of Norway. Norway has produced very little in terms of NHL talent, and this would be the most obvious of reasons as to why they are never included. Of course, they have developed a few pretty good players as they took Canada down to the wire today before losing to the Canadians 2-1. So how does a lesser-known hockey team from a country not known to produce hockey talent take one of the hockey superpowers to the final few minutes in a game that they should have had no business being in? Better yet, who are the players who led the way for this current crop of Norwegian players who are taking on the world?

First off, let's look at some of the Norwegian talent that has broken into the NHL. The history of the NHL doesn't have much in the way of Norwegian-born talent. Bjørn Skaare played one game for the Detroit Red Wings in the 1978-79 season, making him the first Norwegian-born player in the NHL.

In the fall of 1977, Skaare moved to Canada and was signed to play hockey for the Ontario Hockey Association's Ottawa 67s. In 38 games with the 67s, he scored 12 goals and recorded 30 assists. The Detroit Red Wings decided to take a chance on Skaare and drafted him in the fourth round with the 62nd overall pick in the 1978 NHL Entry Draft. He made his NHL debut against the Colorado Rockies on November 28, 1978, but was injured on check by Colorado's Barry Beck. After being reassigned to the Kansas City Red Wings of the Continental Hockey League, Skaare decided to return to his native Norway in February 1979.

The next Norwegian to make the jump to the NHL was a defenceman by the name of Anders Myrvold. Myrvold was selected by the Quebec Nordiques in the fifth round with the 127th pick of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He made his NHL debut for the Colorado Avalanche on October 6, 1995, but never earned a full-time roster spot. After playing in only four games with the Avalanche, he was traded to the Boston Bruins with Landon Wilson on November 22, 1996 for the Bruins' first-round pick in the 1998 Entry Draft. Myrvold spent a total of nine games in a Bruins jersey before bouncing around the AHL and Swedish Elite League. Myrvold ended up playing 33 NHL games for Colorado, Boston, the New York Islanders, and Detroit. He currently plays for the Norwegian club Vålerenga.

Perhaps the most famous Norwegian to land on an NHL roster is Espen Knutsen. Knutsen is the first Norwegian-born player to appear in NHL All-Star Game having been selected as an injury replacement in the 2002 NHL All-Star Game held in Los Angeles.

Knutsen was drafted by the Hartford Whalers in the tenth round with the 204th overall pick in 1990. In 1996, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks acquired Knutsen's rights, and he made his debut in the NHL at the start of the 1996-97 season. Despite playing on a line with Teemu Selanne and Tomas Sandstrom, he recorded only three goals in nineteen games, and was demoted to the AHL's Cincinnati Mighty Ducks. Knutsen returned to Djurgården of the Swedish Elite League, but made it back to the NHL with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2000.

Despite having very decent numbers as an NHLer, Knutsen might be remembered more for one specific incident. On March, 16, 2002, during a game against the Calgary Flames in Columbus, a Knutsen shot was deflected by Flames' defenceman Derek Morris into the stands where the puck struck 13 year-old Brittanie Cecil in the head. Brittanie died two days later due to damage to an artery in her neck that had been damaged by the sudden movement of her head snapping back after being hit by the puck. Protective netting above the glass behind both goals were made mandatory at every NHL arena at the start of the 2002–03 season in order to prevent another tragedy like this from happening.

As Norway builds into a hockey power, they can be thankful for these three players who led the way. Thanks to these three players, it is apparent that Norway is building a solid hockey program in that country.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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