An Introduction to Ice Hockey in Norway

Home » Sport in Norway » An Introduction to Ice Hockey in Norway

The Norwegian winter isn't just about skiing. Join us as the puck drops and we take a closer look at ice hockey. Here's everything you need to know about the sport, updated for 2023.

From frozen lakes in remote towns to the bustling arenas in cities like Oslo and Stavanger, the sight of the puck darting across the ice is a familiar sight in parts of Norway during the winter.

Ice hockey match in Norway.
Vålerenga v Storhamar ice hockey match in Norway.

While Norway might not be the first country that comes to mind when one thinks of ice hockey powerhouses, its dedicated teams, loyal fan bases, and a pool of talented players make it an important part of the winter sports scene.

But it's not universally popular. Perhaps it's because skiing is so commonplace in Norway, but professional ice hockey struggles for attention nationally. European football also competes for the attention of sports fans on TV throughout the ice hockey season.

Nevertheless, ice hockey (often just called hockey in Norway) is a popular sport in some parts of the country.

Watching ice hockey in Norway

I've become a hockey fan during my time in Norway. As a hardcore football fan, it's something I never expected to happen! Part of the reason is that my Norwegian football team, Vålerenga, also has a hockey team under the same umbrella.

That made it relatively easy to watch my first ice hockey game , a play-off game in Oslo way back in 2012. One year later, I attended a Minnesota Wild NHL game, and I was on my way to being hooked.

Action from Nidaros Hockey v Furuset.
Action from Nidaros Hockey v Furuset.

But it wasn't until recently that I became a regular attendee at ice hockey games. Local to me in Trondheim is second tier Nidaros Hockey, the latest attempt to get elite hockey back in Trondheim.

Although the standard is lower, I've enjoyed going along regularly to games, and learning a lot more about the sport.

EHL: Norway's Elite Hockey League

Previously known as Fjordkraftligaen and before that GET-ligaen, the top league of Norwegian hockey was rebranded as Elite Hockey Ligaen (the Elite Hockey League) for the 2023/24 season.

As the acronym works in both Norwegian and English, I expect EHL to become the common way to refer to the league.

Ten teams compete in the regular season, playing each other a total of five times so that each team plays 45 games. At that point, the top eight proceed to the knockout rounds known as the Norwegian Championship, with each round played as a best-of-seven series.

Action from a Norwegian ice hockey match.
Action from a Norwegian ice hockey match.

The two teams who failed to qualify for this end-season tournament must play-off against teams from the lower division for the right to stay in the EHL.

Stavanger return to dominance

Stavanger Oilers are the reigning champions of Norwegian hockey. In the 2022/23 season, the team finished top of the regular season standings. They then overcame losing the first two games in the play-off final series to eventually defeat Storhamar by four games to three.

Oilers also dominated in the 2021/22 season, topping the regular season table and beating Storhamar in the final series by four games to nil.

It was the first two victories for Stavanger since their domination of the ice in the 2010s. Oilers win the Norwegian championship in seven of the eight seasons between 2010 and 2017.

Oilers were created as a company hockey team by Finnish businessman Harti Kristola and Finnish expatriate workers. The club attracted high standard players from Finland, and quickly earned a place in the top league.

Stavanger businessman Tore Christensen took over the club and they have since gone from strength to strength, moving into DNB Arena in 2012.

Vålerenga and Storhamar

Yet despite this recent success, Stavanger Oilers are far from the most successful team in Norway. That honour goes to Vålerenga Hockey.

Vålerenga have won the Norwegian title 26 times. But despite substantial investment and several high-profile signings, Vålerenga have struggled to perform in the championship play-offs. The team haven't won a title since 2009.

Vålerenga's main rivals are Storhamar from the town of Hamar. Storhamar last won the title in 2018 although they did compete in the final in both of the last two years. The club has won the Norwegian championship seven times.

First division ice hockey

Below the EHL, ice hockey is a semi-professional and amateur sport. Norway's second tier of hockey is known as the first division. It works in a similar way to the EHL, albeit with eight teams instead of ten.

Nidaros v Narvik first division ice hockey game in Norway.
Nidaros v Narvik first division ice hockey game in Norway.

At the end of the regular season, the top four teams compete in a “play-in” tournament to establish the two teams that will go into the promotion/relegation play-off with the two teams from the EHL with the poorest record.

The bottom two teams compete in a promotion/relegation play-off with two teams from the third level of Norwegian ice hockey.

In the 2023/24 season, three teams were expected to perform well in the first division: Narvik, Grüner, and Nidaros.

Norway national team

As the standard of the domestic league isn't on the same level as the world's major leagues, it won't surprise you to learn that the Norwegian national team doesn't have a long list of honours.

However, that doesn't stop hockey fans from travelling to back their national side in tournaments. The men's national team participates in the IIHF World Championships, with their best performance being a 4th place finish in 1951.

Norway v Latvia ice hockey game in Trondheim.
Norway v Latvia ice hockey game in Trondheim.

As of May 2023, Norway is ranked as the 12th best national team in the IIHF rankings, just ahead of France, Belarus, and Kazakhstan.

In the 2023 IIHF World Championship, Norway finished 7th in their 8-team group. They did, however, record a shoot-out win over Canada to give their fans something to cheer about.

Somewhere between one-third and one-half the national team squad play in Norway, with the rest playing in leagues such as Sweden, Finland, and Germany.

Mats Zuccarello

Some Norwegians do play in foreign leagues, but very few make it to the NHL. One of the few to do so and succeed is Mats Zuccarello, arguably the most famous Norwegian ice hockey player.

He currently plies his trade for Minnesota Wild in the NHL. He talked of the sport's popularity (or lack of) and his struggle of getting into the game in his homeland to The Players' Tribune:

“In Norway, hockey isn’t a big deal. It’s not like cross-country skiing or soccer. There aren’t many skating rinks in Norway, and when I was a kid it was hard to get ice time.”

Mats Zuccarello playing for his former club, New York Rangers. Photo: Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com.
Mats Zuccarello playing for his former club, New York Rangers. Photo: Debby Wong / Shutterstock.com.

“My youth team practiced maybe two times a week. I’d play on the pond with my friends more often than at a rink. Some winters our pond hockey scores mattered more than the ones in our local leagues.”

Women's ice hockey in Norway

Women's ice hockey in Norway is played by the same rules as the men's game, but body checking is more controlled. As an amateur-only game the age range can vary hugely so this helps to even out the physical element.

I spoke to local Trondheim player Mildrid Johnsen to learn more about the women's game, and she told me the biggest difference is the money: “Men get paid to play in higher divisions, women pay to play and and for travel. There's a lot of costs, so voluntary work is normal for us.”

“While most hockey is local, there is a national competition at two levels: an Elite division and a first division with an end-of-season national championship. There's not much of an audience for the women's hockey. The usual parents of course, but few others come to watch purely out of interest, yet there are a lot of women in the crowd at men's games.”

How to watch ice hockey in Norway

Fancy watching an Elite Hockey League match in Norway? You're in luck if you're in south-east Norway as that's where the vast majority of teams are based. In the Oslo region are Vålerenga, Frisk Asker, and Lørenskog.

Vålerenga play in the recently rebuilt Jordal Amfi, which is easy to reach on public transport. Tickets are available online in advance.

A little further afield you'll find Comet (Halden) Lillehammer, Ringerike (Hønefoss), Sparta (Sarpsborg), Storhamar (Hamar), and Stjernen (Fredrikstad). The only team outside of eastern Norway is the Stavanger Oilers.

Schedules can be found on EHL.no. For tickets, contact the home club for the fixture you're interested in. You can expect to pay around NOK 200-300 for an adult ticket for a regular season game.

If you prefer to watch on TV, then TV2 Sport currently has the rights to Norwegian hockey. First division games are often shown live too.

Are you a fan of ice hockey in Norway? If you've been to a game, what did you think to the experience? Let us know in the comments below.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

Norway Weekly Subscribe Banner

1 thought on “An Introduction to Ice Hockey in Norway”

  1. It’s funny, I live in Canada and had my son’s coach (who works in professional hockey) tell me about how terrific Norway is accept for there hockey programs. He told me that if ever had the chance to build Norway’s hockey program from the ground up he would simply because it is so raw and so much to work with. The problem he says with the system is its lack of introduction and development for children within the country. If you had a coach like ours your hockey program would be thriving.


Leave a Comment