Thoresen brings Norwegian pride to Edmonton
Sunday, 12 August 2007
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2006
By Lucas Aykroyd
Once again, there’s a diminutive yet talented Norwegian forward with an unruly mop of blond hair making headlines in the NHL. But for a change, it isn’t Espen Knutsen.
Knutsen retired due to injury after the 2004-05 season and is currently coaching Valerenga IF, his original club team, while Patrick Thoresen is lighting it up with the Edmonton Oilers.
The 22-year-old forward signed a two-year deal as a free agent on May 31 after finishing second in team scoring with 36 points for Djurgarden of the Swedish Elitserien last season. However, coming into training camp, there was no guarantee Thoresen would end up playing in Canada’s self-proclaimed “City of Champions.”
“I didn’t know what to expect, because I didn’t know who I would be battling for a place on this team,” Thoresen told Eishockey News. “But when I arrived, I just tried to do my best, and it worked out well. I gave 110 percent in every battle in training camp, and I got some offense going. Now I’m here and playing, so it feels good.”
Oilers coach Craig MacTavish has been impressed with the rookie. “We haven’t had a player from Europe come in and be as polished and complete and as effective as he’s been,” MacTavish said. “I haven’t seen any weakness in any facet of his game so far.”
Thoresen’s positionally sound play and work ethic have enabled him to see duty beyond the fourth line, where he was originally slotted. He’s gotten power play and penalty-killing shifts, and his second goal of the season on October 17 was the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
It might seem like the Oslo native has come out of nowhere, but he’s been preparing for this role all his life. His father Petter represented Norway in five straight Olympic hockey tournaments, starting in 1980. “I was born to play hockey,” said Thoresen. “It was just natural for me.”
He first played in the senior Norwegian League at the tender age of 15 with Storhamar IL and became a fixture on the junior national teams. To hone his skills, he spent 2001-02 and 2002-03 with Moncton and Baie-Comeau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League respectively, ranking among the top team scorers in both seasons.
Even Austrian fans have gotten to enjoy his skills, as Thoresen suited up for former Swedish national team coach Hardy Nilsson with EC Salzburg during this year’s playoffs, due to Djurgarden’s failure to make the post-season. He shone with nine points in 11 games.
Thoresen also contributed to Norway’s 11th-place finish at the 2006 IIHF World Championship, its best result since 2000. He praised surprise starting goalie Mathias Gundersen for the national team’s success: “Having good goaltending is a big part of this game, and with all the penalties we took, [Gundersen] always had to make big saves. It was fun to have some success there. We may only have won one game, but we played tight against the Americans and Czechs. We were happy about our progress.”
Thoresen is just the fifth Norwegian in history to crack an NHL roster. Besides Knutsen, whose 207 NHL games mark him as the country’s greatest-ever talent, forward Bjorn Skaare (with one game for Detroit in 1978-79), journeyman defenseman Anders Myrvold, and Columbus rookie blueliner Ole-Kristian Tollefsen have made it to the big time in North America.
“I don’t think hockey will ever be as big in Norway as in Sweden, for instance,” Thoresen admitted. “But if more players break through in the NHL, that’ll be important, because then you get the media coverage.”
For now, his personal goals with the Oilers are simple: “I hope to stay here the whole season. I just want to do my job, and I’d love to play 82 games.”