World Sledge Hockey Challenge: Norway Has Mix of Youth and Veterans

At 24, Thomas Jacobsen will captain the Norwegian squad in Calgary. By IPC

“Since that day I first sat in a sled and went on the ice, I was just hooked. Now, I’ve experienced more than I’ve ever experienced before, so it kind of changed my life."

Norway’s Thomas Jacobsen spent more than eight months in the hospital recovering from a floor hockey accident that left him a paraplegic.

Persuading him to join his country’s Ice Sledge Hockey team during that span proved to be quite difficult.

Rolf Pedersen of Norway, arguably the sport’s best player in history, approached Jacobsen in the hospital.

“You want to come play?” Pedersen asked.

“Nah,” Jacobsen responded. “It’s not for me.”

(Jacobsen admits he did not even know what Ice Sledge Hockey was at that point in time.)

Every day for the next seven months, Jacobsen received e-mails, texts and phone calls from Pedersen requesting his presence on the ice.

Finally, Jacobsen caved in.

“I got you. I get the point now,” he told Pedersen. “I’ll come join you guys and try it out.”

He did more than just try it out. At 24, he is now entering his fourth year as a forward with Norway’s national squad and second as team captain.

He will lead the way for Norway at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge from 27 November – 3 December in Calgary, Canada, where the top four teams from the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games will face off.

“Since that day I first sat in a sled and went on the ice, I was just hooked,” Jacobsen said. “Now, I’ve experienced more than I’ve ever experienced before, so it kind of changed my life.

“I dedicate my whole life to the team and the sport, so it’s a full-time job.”

Norway’s Ice Sledge Hockey team trains full-time in Oslo and will face stiff competition in Calgary from Canada, Japan and the USA.

The Norwegians took bronze at Vancouver 2010 after veteran defenseman Eskil Hagen slapped the puck into the net for the winning score with just 3.6 seconds remaining in the third-place game against Canada.

Norway will have plenty of veteran experience in Calgary with Hagen and Helge Bjornstad, who have been on the team since the Lillehammer 1994 Paralympics. Pederson will provide ample leadership, too, being that he has competed in four Paralympic Winter Games.

But remember, Jacobsen is Norway’s captain.

“There are people who have played almost as long as I’ve been living, so that was kind of awkward,” Jacobsen chuckled in reference to his role. “But I appreciate the honour.”

He leads the next generation of players in Norway – a group that also includes 23-year-old forward Audun Bakke and soon-to-be 16-year-old forward Magnus Bogle.

Bakke has been with the team since the Torino 2006 Paralympics, while Bogle’s first international competition was the 2011 European Championships. Because the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) rules state an athlete must be at least 16 to participate in Ice Sledge Hockey competitions, Bogle had to apply for an exemption to compete.

He will not turn 16 until the first day of the World Sledge Hockey Challenge.

In Calgary, Norway will look to better its second-place finish from April’s version of the event. Canada blanked Norway, 8-0, in the finals in London, Ontario, after already beating the Norwegians, 14-0, in the preliminary round.

“They were just better than us basically,” Norway’s Morten Vaernes said of Canada. “We were trying to analyze it too much afterward. They know that we don’t like to be tackled as much as they do, and they take advantage of that.”

Vaernes and Jacobsen both noted that Canada and the USA play a much more aggressive game, and that Norway and Japan prefer a softer, more agile style of play.

“The hockey here in Norway is more drilling and passing than just standing up with hard hits. But over in the Canadian league or the U.S. league, it’s a physical game dominating all over,” Jacobsen said. “It’s always a shock for us to come over there and play them, but we’ll get used to it.

“It’s just the name of the game. It’s hockey. What can you expect?”