Ole-Kristian Tollefsen knows all about representing his homeland. His native Norway claims only a handful of players who have ever reached the NHL, so the Blue Jackets rookie defenseman still feels the spotlight, even though he’s an ocean and a continent away from it most of the time.
“Back home, kids look up to me,” he said. His rare feat of reaching the NHL makes him “pretty big” in places like Oslo, the country’s capital. In fact, “O.K.” receives frequent phone calls from Norwegian reporters.
His phone has been ringing a lot more lately. For the first time in NHL history, two Norwegian-born players will skate on the same ice at 7 p.m. Friday as the Edmonton Oilers and young forward Patrick Thoresen blow into Nationwide Arena to play the Jackets.
“We’ve played against each other since we were six or seven years old,” Tollefsen said about his countryman. “It was always like a rivalry, but we played together on the national team and all that stuff, so I know the guy real well. We spend a lot of time together in the summer, too, so it’s fun. He’s one of my buddies.”
Thoresen, also a rookie, has had a productive start to his NHL career this year in Edmonton, scoring 2-5-7 with 8 PIM in 14 games with the Oilers.
That’s not to slight Columbus’ own western Scandinavian. Tollefsen has drawn much praise from the front office after making the team out of training camp. He’s known particularly for his “physical and hard-nosed play” in the words of his head coach, Gerard Gallant. That tenacious play has resulted in 17 PIM and slew of highlight-reel hits.
“He’s a hard-working kid,” Gallant said. “We really like him, and he’s been a pleasant surprise for us.”
But, Tollefsen’s just being himself. “That’s always been my style,” he said.
Interestingly enough, Tollefsen isn’t the first Norwegian to suit up for the Blue Jackets. The team’s first ever all-star, center Espen Knutsen, hailed from Norway. A member of the franchise’s inaugural team, Knutsen collected 30-81-111 with 105 PIM in 207 games with Columbus and Anaheim before retiring due to a back injury. He was an all-star with the Jackets in 2002. Tollefsen said he knows Knutsen “real well” and played with him in exhibition games for the Norwegian national team.
“Everybody from back home who played hockey admired that guy,” Tollefsen said of the former Jacket. “He’s a big star, so it’s nice to talk to him and get advice.”
Though Knutsen might be the cream of the Norwegian hockey crop in the NHL, a few other notables have experience. Anders Myrvold spent part of four seasons in the NHL with the Colorado Avalanche, the Boston Bruins, the New York Islanders and the Detroit Red Wings, scoring 0-5-5 in 33 games. He also had a successful career in the AHL. Bjorn Skaare got a taste of NHL hockey–literally just a taste. He played in one game for the Red Wings during the 1978-79 season.
Another key figure in Norwegian hockey, an institution sill waiting for its first Olympic medal, was Thoresen’s father, Petter, who played in several Olympics for Norway beginning in 1980 at Lake Placid. In fact, Thoresen is one of only five hockey players to participate in five Olympics, including 1994, at the Norwegian games at Lillehammer. That earned the elder Thoresen, who coached Team Norway at the 2006 World Junior Championships in Vancouver, hero status among young hockey players.
Though Patrick Thoresen may be the product of a hockey pedigree, Tollefsen is far from it.
“My buddy in kindergarten got me into hockey,” Tollefsen said. “I told (my parents) I want to do what my buddy does. They took me to an open skate, and I fell in love with it.”