From when they first strap on skates, young hockey players in Norway’s Frisk Asker program look forward to when they turn 14 years old.
That’s when the hockey program’s bantam team makes an annual trip to Canada to participate in Brantford’s Wayne Gretzky International Hockey Tournament.
“Our club, which is one of the elite clubs in Norway, sends our 14-year-olds here every Christmas,” team manager Ulf Andersen said. “I don’t even remember when (the tradition) started, but we have a player on our team whose father played here in Brantford when he was 14 years old.”
The bantam Frisk Asker Tigers players live with the families of players from the Brantford Church Hockey League’s bantam team while in the city.
“The kids love it and I think the Canadians love it,” Andersen said. “We all have a good time getting to know each other and the kids learn a different culture while getting to play hockey in Canada.”
Tigers’ captain Kristian Soyland had been looking forward to the trip since he was six years old, when he joined the Frisk Asker organization.
He said the game is a bit different in Canada.
“It’s a lot bigger on zones here,” he said. “Everyone is working on holding pucks in different zones.”
The Tigers made some adjustments in their game and had some success in the tournament’s preliminary rounds on Friday and Saturday.
The team defeated the Brantford Saints 3-2 on Friday and then earned 1-1 draws with the Burlington Bulldogs and Paris Wolfpack.
That set up a game between the Tigers and Cambridge Hawks in a semifinal on Saturday night, but the Norwegians fell 4-1 to end their tournament hopes.
Andersen said the trip was everything he expected based on the discussion about Brantford that occurs within the Frisk Asker organization.
“Every year the kids hear stories and experiences from the older teams,” he said. “Now our team is here having a great time and they will return with their own stories for the younger kids.”
Aside from the Norwegians, there was a contingent of bantam teams from Finland and several from the U.S. at this year’s Gretzky tournament.
The Finnish team arrived to a nightmare scenario when its equipment did not arrive with players at the airport in Toronto.
David Fielding, tournament chair from the Brantford Minor Hockey Association, said it was impressive that hockey parents and the local community rallied to donate equipment for the players in time for their first game.
The two teams from Finland ended up finishing the tournament as runners-up in the Bantam A championship and consolation finals.