2014 Sochi Olympics: Why Isn't Norway A World Hockey Power?

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted anything for the last 12 days, well, my Editor Hat has been on vacation with me in Norway. My family and I stayed at this old country home just west of Voss, surrounded by a gorgeous fjord, but didn’t have WiFi access. It was a little strange being away from the blog for so long, especially since I had just taken over the Editor role right before I went on vacay, but frankly, I didn’t miss it too much. I was in freakin’ Norway, for crying out loud.

Any time you’re in a foreign country, you notice differences between that country’s culture and the culture of your home country. More specifically for me, I noticed a lot of differences in the sporting culture between Norway and Canada. The Norwegian people love being outdoors, so it’s no surprise they’ve taken to sports like cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, speed-skating and the like. But if the people love sports so much, and are pretty well used to a cold climate (Norway’s latitude is similar to Northwest Territories), why isn’t hockey bigger there?

We all know how good Sweden and Finland, Norway’s scandinavian neighbours, are at the international level. They sit first and second, respectively, in the world ranking. Norway is ninth, just ahead of Germany, which really isn’t all that bad. They qualified for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and will play in Group B with Canada, Finland and Austria. Their most well-known player is Mats Zuccarello, a small, speedy forward who has spent the last three years bouncing between the New York Rangers and their AHL team in Connecticut. The 25-year-old turned heads before that by putting up big numbers with Modo of the Swedish league, and plied his trade with Magnitogorsk of the KHL during last year’s lockout. The only other notable former NHLers from Norway are forward Patrick Thoresen and defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.

The answer to why Norway lacks in hockey proficiency compared to its Scandinavian cousins probably at least partially lies in population. According to a 2011 census, Norway’s population sits at 4.9531 million, well under Sweden’s mark of 9.4492 million. However, that doesn’t explain how Finland is that much better than Norway, given how the Finnish population is only fractionally higher at 5.3883 million, and hasn’t grown as rapidly as Norway’s over the last few years. The question then becomes: What percentage of the population actually plays hockey?

Unsurprisingly, Finland boasts the second-highest hockey-playing percentage of population in the world at 1.2 per cent, behind only Canada. Norway sits at 0.14 per cent, just behind Slovakia and the United States. So Norway might not be known as a world hockey power, but hasn’t really done too badly for itself in comparison to many other hockey nations. They’ll have a tough time at Sochi, having to play Canada and Finland in their first two round-robin games, but with a population that loves to skate, loves being outdoors and is growing steadily, I wouldn’t be surprised if they continued to improve at the international level.

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