8 for 8: Norway preview

IMG_0346This article first appeared on Paralympic.org on Jan. 27, 2014.

Link: http://www.paralympic.org/news/8-8-norway-preview

If you’re looking for the model of consistency with a hint of dynasty, Norway’s ice sledge hockey team would be your pick going into the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

Ever since the birth of sledge hockey at the Paralympic level, Norway have medalled in every single Games, including a gold at the Nagano 1998 Paralympics.

At Vancouver 2010, Norway defeated host nation Canada in the bronze-medal game to keep the streak going.

But, four years can change a lot. Not only do other teams improve on their own games, but players also get older.

One of those players that has aged in the past four years is Norway’s Rolf Pedersen. Despite now being 44, Pedersen is arguably still the best offensive defenceman in the world.

“On the ice there is no problem being one of the older guys,” Pedersen said prior to the start of the 2013 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships A-Pool in Goyang, South Korea.

“Your age is only a number. It’s all about being prepared for each season and each game. But of course somewhere in the next (few) years, it’s (going to) stop itself.”

At the World Championships, Pedersen scored three times in five games for a Norwegian squad that secured the final qualification spot for Sochi at the tournament.

It took a dramatic fashion to secure the No. 5 seed however, with a shootout against Italy being the tiebreaker. Defenceman Morten Vaernes, named Player of the Games, was the only one to score in the sudden-death format to give Norway the win.

Most recently, Norway was involved in a four team tournament from 14-16 January in Podolsk, Russia, where they defeated the Czech Republic and Sweden, only to fall to the host nation.

Despite the fact that Norway might be getting older, they also have been looking ahead to the future. The team’s leading scorer from last year’s World Championships, Eskil Hagen, feels like Norway can bring a variety of strengths to the Paralympic Games.

“We have a good mix of young up and coming players and players with experience,” said Hagen.

Hagen admits that it will be difficult to medal in Sochi, but with veteran leadership like Pedersen’s – a player who has won four Paralympic medals, including three in sledge hockey – Norway will not be a pushover come March.

Norway start off their quest for a medal on 8 March, when they take on the Czech Republic in Group A preliminary round action at 9:30 (MSK).