Hockey away from home

From Hall-of-Famers like Teemu Selanne and Peter Forsberg to young stars like Patrik Laine and Andre Burakovsky, Finland and Sweden have produced their fair share of successful NHL players. The frozen lakes that cover the two countries probably play some role in this success. Their Nordic neighbor Norway, however, has always been less enthusiastic about hockey. Although outdoor rinks are common enough throughout its cities, Norway’s mountains lend themselves better to skiing. While only 21 Norwegian players have ever been selected in the NHL draft and only one Norwegian, the Minnesota Wild’s Mats Zuccarello, is currently active in the league, hockey in Norway is far from dead.

At the beginning of this year, I left for a semester abroad in Oslo. As an avid hockey fan, I was eager to check out the local scene. I figured that the games would be nothing like the North American games I’ve been to at the professional and university levels.

 Norway’s top-tier hockey league is GET-ligaen (the GET-league in English), with the 1. divisjon (First Division) ranked just below. Of the 10 teams in the league, three—Grüner, Manglerud Star, and Vålerenga—play in Oslo. Tickets were affordable, and my rinkside seat cost only a fifth of the price of a ticket to a Habs game in the nosebleeds. However, information about the league itself was harder to find, probably due to a combination of my thoroughly mediocre Norwegian and the league’s lack of social media presence.

 When it came time to pick a team to cheer on, I went with Vålerenga: The most storied franchise in GET-ligaen. The club’s 2,050-seat Furuset Forum was a 45-minute ride away on the tram and subway—hardly the downtown locale of the Bell Centre or Madison Square Garden. Vålerenga won both games that I went to, trouncing Grüner 5–1 and beating Storhamar 3–2 in overtime.

 The differences from the Candian hockey that I was accustomed to were apparent as soon as I entered the small arena. The stands were nowhere near full, typical of Vålerenga home games, with an average attendance of 968 people that season. There was none of the spectacle that I was used to from an NHL game, but the second the puck dropped, I was right at home. The pace was quick, the players were determined, and the fans were excited. Chants rang through the rink, and while I could not decipher a word, I found myself just as eager to join in as I would have been for a “go Habs go!” or a “Let’s go Canadiennes!” I felt transported back to those Montréal Canadiennes games—like GET-ligaen, women’s hockey games are characterized by smaller arenas and fewer dramatic ceremonies, but fans can look past that to appreciate the spectacular quality of the hockey itself and love their teams even more for it.

 The hockey games that I attended were some of my favourite memories from my time in Oslo. They were a reminder that even if the goals are being announced in a different language, and even if you don’t know a single member of the team that you are cheering for, a breakaway can still bring you to the edge of your seat. A missed penalty call can always make you share an exasperated look with your neighbour. Hockey is still hockey. 

 Don’t count a league out just because it’s not the NHL. If you find yourself far away from the colossal arena of your favourite team, remember that you can have just as much fun going to a less commercial game, and you don’t have to break the bank to do it.


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