The Norwegian Ice Hockey league struggles for attention in Norway.
The GET-liga is the top level of Norwegian hockey and struggles for attention against skiing and other winter sports. Although football is played in the summer in Norway, the English Premier League and other European leagues dominate sports coverage during the hockey season.
Ten teams compete in the regular season, playing each other a total of five times. The top eight proceed to the knockout rounds known as the Norwegian Championship, with each round played as a best-of-seven series. 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 play in the GET-liga next season.
Stavanger continue to dominate
Stavanger Oilers are the reigning champions of the GET-liga, the top level of Norwegian hockey. They wiped the floor with Stjernen and Sarpsborg Sparta in the play-offs before seeing off Frisk-Asker in the sixth game of the 2016-17 finals. It was the 7th title in 8 seasons for the Stavanger outfit.
Yet Stavanger Oilers are far from the most successful team in Norway. That honour goes to Vålerenga Hockey, part of the same Oslo sports club as their namesake football team. Vålerenga have won the Norwegian title 26 times. The Oilers remain a controversial club to many in Norway because unlike most sports clubs here that are rooted in their communities, the Oilers are a club built from money.
They 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 the sparkling new DNB Arena in 2012.
A struggling sport in Norway
Mats Zuccarello is the most famous Norwegian player and currently plies his trade for New York Rangers 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. 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.”
The women's game
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 a GET-liga game in Norway? You're in luck if you're in south-east Norway as that's where the majority of teams are based. In the Oslo region are Vålerenga, Frisk Asker, Lørenskog, and Manglerud. A little further afield you'll find Lillehammer, Sparta Sarpsborg, Storhamar (Hamar), Stjernen (Fredrikstad) and Kongsvinger. The only team outside of eastern Norway is the Stavanger Oilers. Schedules can be found on Hockey.no (click the GET-liga button) and for tickets, contact the home club for the fixture you're interested in.