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Norway's Daniel Sorvik takes a shot on goal during a training session at the Bolshoy Ice Dome at the the 2014 Winter Olympics, on Feb. 9 in Sochi, Russia. (Mark Humphrey/AP)
Norway's Daniel Sorvik takes a shot on goal during a training session at the Bolshoy Ice Dome at the the 2014 Winter Olympics, on Feb. 9 in Sochi, Russia. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Norwegians stake rare claim to hockey spotlight as Team Canada’s first opponent Add to ...

A former Edmonton Oiler and Philadelphia Flyer, veteran forward Patrick Thoresen says he does get recognized on the street in Norway.

But not often.

“Maybe in my hometown (of Hamar),” he said. “It’s a small city of 35,000, 40,000 people. So you get recognized there. But if I go to Oslo, not so many will recognize me. Hockey’s not the biggest sport.”

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It may be king in Canada but in Norway, hockey takes a backseat to alpine and cross-country skiing, biathlon, soccer, even those curlers in the loud pants.

“Pretty much everything is front of us,” said defenceman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, a former Columbus Blue Jacket and Philadelphia Flyer.

“But we’ve proven the last few years that we’re capable of staying in the ‘A’ pool. We’ve made the quarter-finals (at the world championships) a few times. We’re a good group. We’ve played together a long time ... and we have fun together.”

The Norwegians are in the hockey spotlight at the Olympics on Thursday as they take on Team Canada in the opener for both teams.

You can guess whose side history is on, although Norway is improving. Still if you want to win $100 on Team Canada with bookmaker Ladbrokes, you’ll have to put down $5,000 to do it.

Norway’s record against Canada in Olympic and world championship play is 1-23-0, during which they have been outscored 175-25. That’s about a four per cent winning rate.

But Russia has been good to Norway as their only win over Canada was a 4-3 decision at the 2000 world championships in St. Petersburg.

Normal service has since resumed. Canada thumped Norway 8-0 at the 2010 Olympics and has outscored the Norwegians 61-11 in the 10 games since the loss in 2000.

Still Norway has improved and is now a fixture in the ‘A’ division of world hockey. Many of the Norwegians players have grown up under coach Roy Johansen, making for a tight unit with a defined style if player.

So Team Canada is taking no chances here. Consultant Ralph Krueger, Canada’s European expert, took in Norway’s practice Wednesday at the Bolshoy Arena practice rink with pen and paper in hand.

“Because Roy’s been their coach for 12 years, they have a certain synergy there,” said Krueger. “They work like a bit of a clock.

“So they’re a dangerous opponent for us. They’re really going to test us because of their team game.”

Norway is ranked ninth in the world according to the 2103 IIHF rankings, which are based on the last four IIHF World Championships and the previous Olympics. Canada, which has struggled at world championships recently, stands fifth, behind Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic.

“They’re a quality not quantity country,” Krueger said of Norway. “They don’t have a lot of players to select from but the ones that do develop, they go to the Swedish league when they’re young ... They can thank Sweden for their development.”

Forward Mats Zuccarello, who leads the New York Rangers with 15 goals and 28 assists, is the star of the team. Thoresen, now playing in Sweden, and Tollefsen, playing in Russia, have NHL experience and goalie Lars Haugen, who plays in the KHL for Dynamo Minsk, has established himself as the Norwegian No. 1.

“With a player like Zuccarello leading the way, it’s given them a lot of confidence,” said Krueger, whose coaching resume including 12 years at the helm of the Swiss national team and a brief stint running the Edmonton Oilers. “And they play outstanding as a group. Their group dynamic is strong because they play with almost the same players every time.”

Canadian coach Mike Babcock is also saying the right things.

“It’s the Olympic Games,” he said to a posse of reporters after the earlier Canadian practice. “Everybody’s a big team. We understand that totally.

“We’re a work in progress as you can see just by watching us practise. We want to get on the same page so we can play fast”

The Norwegians certainly looked in sync in practice, skating patterns as five-man units and doing drills as a half-dozen reporters and cameramen watched. Norway also came prepared for the chilly rink, with one official pulling out a coffee pot.

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