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THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

From Norway to the United States to becoming a Flames draft pick, Pettersen's path is unique

by TORIE PETERSON @ToriePeterson / CalgaryFlames.com

Nestled in southeast Oslo lies the suburb of Manglerud.

Situated in the Østensjø borough, which houses approximately 50,000 of Oslo's population, it might be best known for being the hometown of the band a-ha's Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen.

But it is also has another distinction: hockey holds a special place in the hearts of residents.

With neighboring Sweden and Finland producing plenty of NHL talent year after year, Norway's exports have been limited to just a handful of players: Mats Zuccarello, Espen Knutsen, Patrick Thoresen, Andreas Martinsen, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Jonas Holøs, Anders Myrvold, and Bjørne Skaare - the first Norwegian to play in the NHL, limited to just a single game with the Detroit Red Wings in 1978-79.

Cross-country skiing, soccer, handball, biathalon … plenty of sports hold the hearts of Norwegians.   

But in Manglerud, according to Flames prospect Mathias Emilio Pettersen, hockey is No.-1.

It is where his passion for the sport was fostered at local rinks and on the ponds surrounding his childhood home.

"I was fortunate enough to grow up in a small (community) that really emphasized hockey - in my neighborhood, hockey is the big thing," he told CalgaryFlames.com.

"All my buddies and I did when we were kids was play hockey. We practiced before school, we practiced after school, we played pond hockey at night in the winter time, and every weekend, it was hockey. It was all we did."

Pettersen's childhood also featured plenty of time on the soccer pitch but in his early teens, it became clear which sport meant the most to him.

"I think I was 12, the last couple of years before I moved over to the United States, when I stopped. That's when I really started to take hockey seriously - when I didn't want to practice soccer anymore, I only wanted to play hockey."

At age 14, he and his family made the difficult decision to have the right-winger relocate to North America to further his hockey career at Connecticut's South Kent School and then later in the USHL, but the ties to his home country obviously remain strong.

This week, Pettersen - who is currently attending the University of Denver as a true freshman - will suit up for his country at the IIHF Div. A World Junior Championship in Füssen, Germany, marking the third time he has played for Norway in international competition.

In his first two international tournaments - the 2016 and 2017 IIHF U-18 Div. A World Junior Championship - he notched an impressive 17 points in 10 games.

"It means everything for me, honestly," he said. "Nothing is better than wearing your country's colours on your chest and representing it. It's a dream come true.

"I grew up looking up to players like Mats Zuccarello, who always did so well for their country and I want to be that type of player - leave it all out on the ice, play hard for my country and make them proud."

With his experience and high skill level, the Norwegian squad will be relying on him to generate a healthy chunk of their offence throughout the tournament.

That duty, according to University of Denver assistant coach Dallas Ferguson, is something Pettersen relishes.

"He's a guy who is dangerous every time he's on the ice," Ferguson told CalgaryFlames.com. "He recognizes that with his style of play, creating offence is a big part of who he is. He'll gladly take that responsibility because he's a guy who can make it happen. His speed, his quickness with the puck, his ability to make plays at a high speed - I think it's going to serve him very well on that stage."

"I think that's something he'll be very comfortable with. He's shown that here at Denver with his ability to create offence."

While at DU this season, Pettersen has been vital to the team's success, playing on the top line with Cole Guttman and Jarid Lukosevicius.

"His point production has been good," Ferguson assessed. "He has a willingness to learn and recognize that he's early on in his college career and obviously the more he develops and rounds out his game at this level here, it's not only going to make our team more successful but it's also going to develop his game so he'll be ready to move on to the next level when that time comes.

"He's the first half into his freshman year and he's learned a lot on how to be successful at this level and in this league. It's a very tough league to generate offence so for him and Guttman and a senior in Lukosevicius - Luko has been really demanding on those two guys. They're playing on our top line and they're playing against other team's top lines, top pairings, and they've still been able to manufacture scoring for us."

Pettersen's maturity and drive, developed after arriving in North America at such a young age, have been key in his ability to adapt so quickly to college hockey.

"A tough part of moving was that I was so young," he explained. "I didn't really know what to do or how to manage my time but that move taught me how to handle myself. I went through learning how to handle my time: I need to go to breakfast, I need to go to practice, I need to have a routine for the day. I needed to have structure.

"That's what taught me I needed to figure those things out by myself and I know what happens when you don't do those things.

"It's really taught me how to structure my life."

Moving into the second half of the NCAA season, Ferguson and the Pioneers fully expect him to take another step in his development.

"He's someone who is very coachable," said Ferguson. "He's obviously very driven. His workload is heavy. One thing I've noticed right from the very beginning is that he's got an intensity to him: he wants to get better, he wants to be successful and he's willing to put the time and work in to do that.

"He's on point, he's learning. It hasn't been easy and he's had to work through a lot of stuff but at the same time, he has the ability to push and get through the hard stuff."

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