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Bjorgvik-Holm has another Blue Jacket from Norway on his side

CBJ draft pick who is set to represent his country at the Worlds has a mentor in a former Columbus defenseman

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Competing in five different Olympic Games, Kjetil André Aamodt is the most decorated alpine skier of all time. 

The native of Oslo, Norway, won eight different Olympic medals in the giant slalom, Super-G and combined events, including four golds. 

Speaking of the number eight, by comparison, just eight players born in Norway have ever suited up in an NHL game. Coincidentally, two of the three Norwegians to play in the most NHL games -- Espen Knutsen and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen -- played predominantly with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

What does it all mean? If you're a Norwegian, based on the country's Nordic roots and picturesque mountainsides, you're probably more likely to become an Olympic skier than an NHL player. But if you are a Norwegian hockey fan or player, odds are you probably have at least a passing knowledge or interest in the Blue Jackets. 

Which is all a roundabout way to say that maybe it's not a huge surprise that the CBJ's most recent draft pick from Norway -- 2020 fifth-round pick Ole Bjorgvik-Holm -- and Tollefsen have a relationship. In fact, Tollefsen now works as a coach in the country's national team program and is one of Bjorgvik-Holm's mentors. 

The two met a few years ago when the younger player took part in Norway's Under-16 camp, and the bond between one former NHL defenseman and the protégé who hopes to follow in his footsteps has become stronger from there. 

"He's been great," Bjorgvik-Holm recently told BlueJackets.com. "I'm really fortunate to have him by my side. He texts me now and then and asks how it's going. He'll watch some of my games and give me what I can do better, what I'm doing good. 

"He's been in this situation before. He knows exactly what I'm going through, so it's really good to have him by my side. He's just a really good guy." 

So far, Bjorgvik-Holm is checking off all the boxes to follow in Tollefsen's footsteps. Just like Tollefsen, Bjorgvik-Holm made the decision to come to North America to play junior hockey, and the recent CBJ draft pick is coming off a hectic but successful year that will be capped this week as he has been selected to represent his home country at the IIHF World Championships. 

He was drafted by the Blue Jackets in October after a year with Mississauga of the OHL, but the pandemic threw his development into a bit of a loop. Bjorgvik-Holm ended up returning to play for Manglerud in his home country this fall, notching 10 points in 22 games, then signed with the Jackets' AHL affiliate in Cleveland and performed pretty well for a young rookie, notching a 1-4-5 line and minus-1 rating in 16 games in a season that concluded over the weekend.  

"I think it's gone pretty good, actually," he said of his transition to North America before heading overseas for the Worlds. "The guys have welcomed me in with open arms, and the coach has been unreal, too, so I am just trying to sink it all in and trying to get better every day. I am learning so many new things while I am here, and I think hockey-wise our whole team has been really good so it's been easy to step in when everything else is clicking. 

"I wouldn't say it was that big of a difference (in game play), but obviously the tempo, and it's a lot more hitting. The guys are men, right? So I obviously felt that, but I feel like I'm getting better every game and that's my focus." 

In all, it was a big year of growth for Bjorgvik-Holm, and it was an impressive year of performances and experiences for someone who is still just 18 years old. As Bjorgvik-Holm's game matures, Tollefsen -- who played 163 NHL games, all but 18 in four seasons with the Blue Jackets from 2006-09 before injuries took their toll -- sees the chance for the young defenseman to make it the NHL level, and the Worlds experience will only help. 

"Obviously when he is in Norway, he is a really skilled defenseman," Tollefsen said. "He still has a lot of skill (at the higher levels), but he is trying to make that step to become a complete two-way defenseman. He is reading the play well, he is jumping in the rushes and stuff, but he's really working on the defensive zone in the small rinks. It's a little different timing in the small rinks from the big rinks, so he is still working on that.  

"You can see that in Cleveland, too, when he's playing against senior players. It's a little bit different because they're a little bit straighter to the net, but he's working on that. I think he's on his way to becoming a stable, two-way defenseman." 

But what might impress Tollefsen the most is how much poise Bjorgvik-Holm has shown, especially as a pandemic threw the last year into a bit of chaos.  

"He's determined, he stays in good shape -- he is a workout freak -- so he does the right things to become a hockey player," Tollefsen said. "I think he's made a lot of good choices. Going overseas with his style of game, he has developed that type of game into the smaller areas of ice. Going over now, too, just going to Cleveland, just trying to earn a spot on the team to get some more ice time there too, he's making those adult decisions already. He's on his way to becoming a good player." 

That's what happens when someone falls in love with the sport like Bjorgvik-Holm did. He's a native of Oslo, but in a country where skiing is perhaps the favorite pastime, the 6-foot-2 athlete faced a unique choice of sports -- hockey or soccer. 

"We're a big skiing nation, but I grew up right next to a hockey rink, like 10 minutes away from my house, so I just started when I was 3 or 4 years old," he said. "We came every Friday. It was fun, and I fell in love with it right there. I played soccer, too, growing up until I was like 14, but the sport for me was hockey. I had to make a commitment to either soccer or hockey, but it was hockey that I pursued." 

It's fair to say that decision is working out so far, and Bjorgvik-Holm will just keep getting more and more experience as he gets older. The youngster also has a pretty good person on his side in Tollefsen, who has travelled the path Bjorgvik-Holm hopes to follow and can now help show him the way. 

"I have been talking a lot with him," Tollefsen said. "He was playing in Norway earlier this year before he went to Cleveland, and we did a lot of on-ice things trying to get him ready for the NHL level and playing the North American style. I really like the kid. He's a hard-working kid. He has one goal, and that's making the team." 

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