AC Olympic Preview: Norway - It's the Mats Zuccarello show!

"Help us Mats Zuccarello! You're our only hope!" - All of Norway, probably. - Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

Norway qualified for their second straight Olympic games and will ice 13 skaters who competed in Vancouver, but sadly this time out will probably be no different from the last.

Offense Preview: Last time around in Vancouver, Norway boasted one NHL player on its roster that was making its first Olympic appearance since 1994. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen will once again be on this year's edition of the Norwegian national team, but he is no longer in the NHL. This year, that honor falls to New York Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello (yes, I too thought he was Italian).

The diminuative New York Rangers forward will serve as the captain and offensive spearhead for a Norwegian team that beyond him doesn't boast a whole of of weapons. He will likely see time on the top line alongside Patrick Thoresen, who scored a whopping 18 points in eight games at the 2012 World Championships. Thoresen currently plays for the KHL's SKA St. Petersburg.

Most of the Norwegian national team plays either locally in Norway, or in Sweden for the various clubs there. The SHL and the Hockey Allsvenskan both pretty good leagues in terms of talent and play level. You may remember during the last shortened lockout both Bobby Ryan and Anze Kopitar went over and played for Mora IK, and likewise Hampus Lindholm sharpened his skills there with the academy and eventually the senior team of Rogle BK.

So that being said the guys wearing Sweden's colors are going to be very familiar with both each other and the large ice surface. Likewise, they come in to the tournament ranked ninth in the world, just two spots behind the United States. Don't sleep on this team because they might surprise you and score a goal on you... at some point before you pot your 12th of the game.

Defense Preview: The aforementioned Ole-Kristian Tollefsen will once again be in action for his country, spearheading a defense composed of guys who once again play mostly in Norway or Sweden. Jonas Holos is their lone KHL representative on their blue line, playing for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The 5'10" KHL rookie has 11 points in 48 games, but is a -6 on the season.

The Norwegians will also have one more interesting representative in young Henrik Odegaard, who currently plays in North America for the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League. In 48 games, Odegaard has only three points, but is a +4 so his defensive prowess is definitely there.

But that being said I honestly know next to nothing about the Central Hockey League, and let's just say it's not known for being a particularly talented league so that doesn't say much about him in terms of world-class talent.

Goaltending Preview: The starter job will most likely be given to Lars Haugen, who is currently the starting goaltender for Dinamo Minsk of the KHL. So outright it can be said that this guy is no slouch since the KHL is not a weak league. The problem is Dinamo Minsk is terrible, sitting dead last in the league's western conference. But despite his poor team, Haugen has posted a .910 save-percentage and 2.67 GAA on the year amidst a 5-12 record. Somehow he also has 20 penalty minutes this season. Don't ask me how he got those.

Beyond Haugen is another Lars, this one named Volden who plays for Espoo in Finland. From the looks of it, however he is yet to actually appear in a game for the Blues this season. And no, not the St. Louis ones.

The final goaltender is Steffen Soberg who plays locally in Norway. Overall beyond Lars Haugen, I don't think the Norwegians have a goaltender who can really withstand the quality of play the Norwegians will be facing in the Olympics.

X-Factor: There's a reason they say "this is why they play the games" in regards to tournaments, so the Norwegians will likely have that underdog attitude and know they have nowhere they can go but up. But they are going to depend on their big guns, Mats Zuccarello, Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, Lars Haugen, and Patrick Thoresen. If that core can suddenly start lighting it up, expect Norway to scare a few people. Highly unlikely, but this team did give Switzerland a pretty good scare last time around, taking them all the way to a shootout on the back of a hat trick from now-legendary Tore Vikingstad. (With a name like that how could you not be?)

Predicted Finish: Norway has been placed into group B alongside Canada, Finland, and Austria. Should we just start writing their eulogy now?

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