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Norway returns core of World Championship team

by Risto Pakarinen
Norway heads to Vancouver with a team that definitely has its core in tact. Or, even better, more than the core, as 21 out of the 23 players named to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, also played for Norway at the 2009 World Championship in Switzerland.

Eleven of the players come from the Swedish Elitserien, six from the Norwegian league, three from the German DEL, one - Ole Kristian Tollefsen of the Philadelphia Flyers - from the NHL, and one, Patrick Thoresen, from the KHL.

Norway won its Olympic spot by winning its qualification tournament on home ice in February, marking its first appearance in an Olympic tournament with the NHL players present. The last time Norway played Olympic hockey was at 1994 Olympics, which they hosted at Lillehammer.

One player, Tommy Jakobsen, personifies that return, as the 39-year-old defenseman was also on the Lillehammer team 16 years ago.

The players from the Elitserien make the core of the team, for a good reason.

Per-Age Skröder won the Swedish Elitserien scoring title last season, playing on the same Modo line with his fellow countryman, Mats Zuccarello Aasen, who's currently fourth in league scoring in Sweden, with 14 goals and 37 points in 33 games. Skröder, also the leading goal scorer in Elitserien last season with 30 in 55, and second in Modo scoring this season, has 12 goals and 24 points in 33 games.

Zuccarello Aasen also leads the league forwards in time on ice this season, with over 23 minutes a game.

Frölunda's Mathis Olimb is third in team scoring this season, Andreas Bastinsen collected 10 points in 13 playoff games last season when his Färjestad won the Swedish title, and defenseman Jonas Holos plays second most (on average, a second less that Severin Blindenbacher) on Färjestad this season.

In other words, Norway has a solid team, with considerable offensive potential.

However, the spotlight will be on the lone NHL player, Tollefsen, 25, and 26-year-old former NHL player Thoresen, who's currently sixth in scoring in the Russian KHL.

In a recent interview to Norwegian Aftenposten, Thoresen said he's already played Norway's opening game against Canada in his head several times.

"I can find myself awake at night thinking about the Olympics, or that when I'm going to bed, my dreams take me to the Games. And not just the games, but everything around the event, just to walk around in an Olympic uniform will be a new experience," he said.

"In my dreams, I score the game-winning goal against Canada. Everybody knows that we'll be the underdogs, but in my dreams, I've scored a 3-2 go-ahead goal. I think that's natural, most of us have dreams," he added.

And who knows, if Norway has a hot goalie and sticks to a defensive game plan, while Canada feels the pressure of winning in front of its home crowd, maybe Thoresen's late night dreams in Ufa will turn out to be true visions instead.

He'll have to wait until Feb. 16 when Norway takes on Canada in its opening game.
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