Norwegian youth leads the way

Young guns like Mats Zuccarello Aasen are learning on the fly.

07.05.2008
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Norway expecting big things from Mats Zuccarello Aasen (left) in years to come. Photo: IIHF/HHoF/Jukka Rautio

HALIFAX – At the 2007 IIHF World Championships, Norway earned the right to a spot here in Canada after finishing second in Relegation Round play. In their last game against Finland, Norway was impressive, taking the Finns to overtime before finally losing. Today, they hope to carry the effort over into their contest with Germany. While staying in the top division will be just as difficult as last time, Norway is counting on players like Mats Zuccarello Aasen to keep them competitive and in the top division. Heading into an important contest on Wednesday against Germany, Norway’s best players will need to provide support. Aasen is one of eight players making his senior national team debut. As there is a youth movement building, Norway will benefit from exposing their starlets to elite caliber skaters as they have encountered in the Preliminary Round. In Aasen’s case he is poised to be a future star for the Norwegian national team. Aasen is only 21-years-old but already a force within the Norwegian league and has been compared favorably to Tore Vikingstad and Espen Knutsen. “He’s a smart young player,” said head coach Roy Johansen. “He’s got great offensive skills, good hands, and an excellent passer.” In February he earned his place on the team with an eye opening performance at the Euro Ice Hockey Challenge in Mont Blanc, France. In the final game Norway defeated France 3-0 as Aasen scored twice. Overall, he scored four goals and nine points in the tournament. Against Slovakia he saw a little over 15 minutes of ice time and had three of Norway’s 21 shots on goal. He was involved and looked like he was ready to contribute. The Oslo native played for Frisk Asker since 2005. He’s become an offensive machine over the last two seasons. Along with the Abbott twins, Christen and Cam, Aasen led Frisk atop the Norwegian league standing before losing in the playoff final to SIL. Like other Norwegian players showing promise, Aasen will be headed to Sweden, having signed a two-year contract with MoDo. The transition from Norway to Sweden will be an adjustment and determine how Aasen develops in the coming years. If there is anything that could be considered a drawback is his size. Aasen stands 171cm and weighs 73kg. “He’s not a big player and has to fill out some but he is strong on the puck, which makes him dangerous,” said Johansen. Although he’s undrafted, Aasen could help himself through his performance here, or at future tournaments. The World Championships are about making the best of the opportunities presented to teams and players. This tournament has routinely introduced audiences to players who eventually become recognizable hockey names. “There’s no doubt that by playing against the best in the world he will improve as well as the other young players we have here,” said Johansen. So Aasen can help himself by helping his team. JOHN SANFUL

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