Despite having a number of new faces in their side, defending champions Norway are determined to retain their title in the 2011 International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Ice Sledge Hockey European Championships and that means a good start against Estonia this Saturday.
Led by coach Morten Haglund, Norway are drawn in Group A of the Championships alongside Germany, Great Britain, Netherlands and Estonia, a side Haglund believes will make his team nervous ahead of Saturday’s opener.
“There are always some nerves in the opening game,” Haglund told www.paralympic.org, the IPC’s website. “But, if the team focuses on their jobs, I believe we can have a good result against Estonia.
“If we win that game I will think it will give us a good start to get to the semi-finals.”
As defending champions and Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games bronze medalists, Norway start the Championships as favourites, a tag Haglund believes they justify.
“Norway’s history make us the favourties however, we are building a new team for the World Championship 2012 and the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Games.
“We have four new players in this tournament so I expect us to improve as we go along. I hope we get some good results and play in the final on Sunday 20 February.”
To retain their title Norway will face some stiff competition, a fact not lost on the coach who has pinpointed Thomas Jacobsen and Audun Bakke as the two players in his side who can make a difference.
“Czech Republic, Sweden, Italy and Germany all have teams that can medal in these Championships,” said Haglund who thinks playing at home could help Sweden.
“It is always an advantage to play on home soil. If they can fill up the arena with fans and have a good start then Sweden can go the whole way and make the final.”
For Norway team captain Thomas Jacobsen, he just cannot wait to get out onto the ice and his sole objective in Sweden is to win gold.
“The European Championship is important to me because it is our opportunity to show the rest of Europe that we are the best team.
“It’s also great to show people what sledge hockey is all about
More than 130 players from 10 different countries are set to compete in the 2011 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey European Championships, the biggest event since last year's Vancouver Paralympic Games.
The 10 competing teams have been split into two groups of five, with the top two from each qualifying for the semi-finals.
The groups are:
Although the first game takes place this Saturday (12 February), the Opening Ceremony for the event which is part of the Paralympic Winter World Cup will not take place until 15 February and will be attended by IPC Honorary Board Member HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden.