Norway enters the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi as one of the long shots to reach the medal round of the tournament based on the fact it should have only one NHL player on the roster.
Complicating matters for the Scandinavian country is its placement in Group B, which includes two legitimate gold-medal contenders in Canada and Finland.
Getting past the group stage won't be easy for Norway, but as a team with nothing to lose and no pressure on it to win a medal, the players will be able to relax and focus for each opponent.
Let's take a look at how Norway should construct its roster, the strengths and weaknesses of the team and the expected outcome of the nation's Olympic campaign in Sochi.
Unlike many of the other nations that will be competing in Sochi, Norway has not released a preliminary roster as of this writing. The chart below is my projected roster for the Norwegians at the next Olympics.
|Defense||Daniel Sorvik||Valerenga Ishockey (NOR)|
|Defense||Jonas Holos||Vaxjo Lakers (SWE)|
|Defense||Morten Ask||Valerenga Ishockey (NOR)|
|Defense||Henrik Solberg||Stavanger Oilers (NOR)|
|Defense||Robin Dahlstrom||IF Troja/Ljungby (SWE)|
|Defense||Mats Trygg||HV71 (SWE)|
|Defense||Henrik Odegaard||Sparta Warriors (NOR)|
|Defense||Alexander Bonsaksen||Rogle BK (SWE)|
|Defense||Ole-Kristian Tollefsen||Farjestad BK (SWE)|
|Defense||Mats Rosseli Olsen||Frolunda HC (SWE)|
|Center||Mads Hansen||Brynas IF (SWE)|
|Center||Anders Bastiansen||Farjestad BK (SWE)|
|Center||Patrick Thoresen||SKA Saint Petersburg (RUS)|
|Left Wing||Niklas Roest||Sparta Warriors (NOR)|
|Left Wing||Martin Roymark||Farjestad BK (SWE)|
|Left Wing||Andreas Martinsen||Dusseldorfer EG (GER)|
|Left Wing||Marius Holtet||Farjestad BK (SWE)|
|Left Wing||Lars-Erik Spets||Lorenskog IK (NOR)|
|Left Wing||Per-Age Skroder||Modo Hockey (SWE)|
|Right Wing/Center||Mathis Olimb||Frolunda HC (SWE)|
|Right Wing||Kristian Forsberg||Modo Hockey (SWE)|
|Right Wing||Ken-Andre Olimb||BIK Karlskoga (SWE)|
|Goaltender||Lars Haugen||HC Dinamo Minsk (BEL)|
|Goaltender||Lars Volden||Espoo Blues (FIN)|
|Goaltender||Steffen Soberg||Valerenga Ishockey (NOR)|
Projected Starter: Lars Haugen (HC Dinamo Minsk)
Lars Haugen was the starter for Norway at the 2013 World Championships, where it finished in 10th place. Haugen posted a 3-3 record, a 2.71 GAA and a .916 save percentage at the tournament.
One advantage he has over the other goaltenders on the team is his experience. Haugen has played at three World Championships and started for Norway in its upset victory over a much better Sweden squad two years ago.
Even though his international stats last year were not as good as Volden's, Haugen gives Norway the best chance for a quality goaltending performance in Sochi because of his international experience and prior success against superior opponents.
Projected Backups: Lars Volden (Espoo Blues), Steffen Soberg (Valerenga Ishockey)
Volden is the likely backup after fulfulling that role at the 2013 World Championships. He appeared in 11 games last season during SM-liiga play and recorded a 4-4-1 record with a .927 save percentage. Volden also has international experience from the 2010 World Junior Championship, where he led Norway to a 4-1 record during group play in Division 1, which gave the country a spot in the top division at the 2011 tournament.
Rounding out the roster should be Soberg, who was a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft by the Washington Capitals.
Projected Defensive Pairings
|1||Mats Trygg||Morten Ask|
|2||Alexander Bonsaksen||Jonas Holos|
|3||Daniel Sorvik||Henrik Odegaard|
The Norwegian defense will be a critical part of the team's success. Without a high-powered offense, this team will need consistent, fundamentally strong defense to survive a very tough group.
The player to watch is Mats Trygg, who led all Norway defensemen in scoring at the 2013 World Championships with three points. He brings a lot of veteran savvy to the blue line with over 10 years of professional experience in Sweden and Germany.
Jonas Holos will also play an important part in the team's ability to produce offense from the blue line. The 25-year-old is a good puck-mover and has a powerful shot from the point. He should also get plenty of time on the power play and have the responsibility of matching up against the opposing team's best forwards.
We will learn a lot about Norway's skill on the blue line when it opens up group play against the defending gold medalists from Canada.
Projected Forwards Lines
|1||Per-Age Skroder||Anders Bastiansen||Mats Zuccarello|
|2||Marius Holtet||Patrick Thoresen||Ken-Andre Olimb|
|3||Martin Roymark||Mathis Olimb||Kristian Forsberg|
|4||Niklas Roest||Mads Hansen||Lars-Erik Spets|
Norway scored just 12 goals in seven games at the 2013 World Championship (goal differential of minus-13), and it needs a much better offensive output to survive a group that has two nations (Canada and Finland) with elite goaltenders and talented defensemen.
A good portion of the scoring responsibility will likely fall on the shoulders of Anders Bastiansen and Patrick Thoresen. Bastiansen led the team in goals scored (four) and points (five) at the 2013 WC. His playmaking skills, vision and high hockey IQ will be essential to the first-line's success, which should also include Per-Age Skroder, who was the only other player to score multiple goals at the 2013 WC.
Thoresen finished second in scoring at the 2012 World Championships with 18 points in eight games.
If Norway is to have any chance of pulling off a historic upset over Canada or Finland, the top-six forwards must create scoring chances and reduce the amount of time that the team spends defending in its own end.
Depth on Wings
The biggest strength for Norway is depth on the wing. The team's two most dangerous wingers are Ken-Andre Olimb and Mathias Olimb, who ranked second and third on the team in scoring, respectively, during the 2013 World Championships.
Athleticism on Defense
Another strength for Norway is the mobility on its back end. The blue line is full of defensemen with speed, agility and the ability to move the puck quickly and precisely to start the breakout. This kind of skill set is ideal for the kind of Olympic-sized sheet of ice that will be present in Sochi, which is larger than what NHL players use in North America.
The Norwegians aren't physical enough to play a heavy game at the Olympics and succeed, which is why a blue line built around mobility and not truculence is the best option.
Unreliable Goaltending, Lack of Elite Forward
The lack of an elite goaltender and a forward capable of dominating against top competition are concerns for Norway heading into the Olympics.
To be a legitimate medal contender, goaltending has to be strong unless a team's offense is talented enough to make up for the mistakes in the defensive zone. This isn't the case with Norway, a nation that will need better goaltending than it got at the most recent World Championships if winning a medal is going to be a realistic accomplishment in Sochi.
Patrick Thoresen, Center
Thoresen is the most skilled forward on the Norway team. He has performed exceptionally in the KHL over the past four years with an average of 22.25 goals scored. He has an accurate shot, impressive speed, good offensive awareness and the ability to make his linemates better.
For Norway to break through a deep and physical Canadian defense in the first game of the group stage, it needs Thoresen to create scoring chances consistently. He's the only forward on the roster capable of producing against top competition, evidenced by his team-leading 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) at the 2012 World Championships (only Russia's Evgeni Malkin tallied more points).
Lars Haugen, Goaltender
Goaltending is the most important position for Norway because without a strong performance from Haugen, this team will be destroyed by Canada and Finland in the first two games.
He was average at best a few months ago during World Championships, which shouldn't instill much confidence in Norwegian hockey fans. But as the most experienced goalie in regard to international experience, Norway has to make him the starter for the Olympic opener against the defending gold medalists.
Per-Age Skroder, Left Wing
As a veteran forward with many years of experience for Modo Hockey of the Swedish Elite League, Per-Age Skroder will be relied on to produce offensively for a Norway team that lacks scoring outside of the top two lines.
Skroder tallied 35 or more points in six of the past seven seasons in the SEL, and he also brings a much-needed physical presence to a forward group that doesn't have much toughness or truculence.
His combination of leadership, offensive skill and international experience will make him a valuable member of Norway's next Olympic team.
After failing to qualify from 1998 through 2006, Norway has earned a spot in the past two Winter Olympic Games, including a 10th place finish in Vancouver three years ago.
Reaching the qualification stage will be incredibly difficult for the Norwegians given the fact that they must play two top teams in Canada and Finland in the first two group games.
Unfortunately for Norway, a nation that normally dominates the medal stand at the Winter Olympics, its ice hockey team will not deliver a medal in Sochi.
Norway's scoring depth is a weakness that will prevent the team from having a chance to win against strong defensive opponents with experienced goaltending. The Norwegians also don't have a goaltender capable of stealing games in which they struggle to create enough scoring chances.
Prediction: 0-3 record and failure to reach the qualification round
Nicholas Goss is an NHL writer at Bleacher Report. He was a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.