Two Δord the show: Norwegians face o≠
Saturday night’s Avalanche-Rangers game at the Pepsi Center is going to be big news in Baerum, Flekkefjord and Oslo — and likely everywhere else in Norway.
That’s because Rangers standout Mats Zuccarello and Avalanche winger Andreas Martinsen are the only Norwegian-born players currently active in the NHL. They’ve been teammates on national teams but never have played against each other in the NHL. The Avalanche has had two other Norwegian-born players in their history — defensemen Anders Myrvold and Jonas Holos — but there have been only eight NHL players from that country in league history.
Last season, Martinsen’s first in North America after he had played professionally in Norway and Germany, he was recalled from San Antonio right after the Rangers beat the Avalanche 2-1 in Denver on Nov. 6. When the teams met in New York on Dec. 3, Avalanche coach Patrick Roy made Martinsen a healthy scratch, much to the consternation of a sizable Norwegian media contingent in Madison Square Garden.
“He’s a great guy,” Martinsen, 26, said of Zuccarello, 29. “It’s impossible not to like him. He always come to the rink with a smile and it doesn’t matter how big of a star he is. He’s always been the same person since I met him for the first time when he was playing in the Norwegian league. He’s the same guy now and he’s one of the biggest players in the NHL.”
The Norwegian media representatives surrounded Martinsen in the visiting dressing room after the morning skate in New York last season, but soon got the bad news that Martinsen wasn’t playing that night.
“I was disappointed to be scratched and I didn’t think much about the fact that it was against (Zuccarello),” Martinsen said. “The Norwegian newspapers and journalists were more disappointed because they came all the way over, and finally two Norwegian guys were going to play against each other.
… Hopefully, it is not going to happen this year.”
After practice Friday, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar delivered assurances that Martinsen, who has played in 34 of Colorado’s 35 games this season, would be in the lineup Saturday. Martinsen has one goal and two assists for Colorado, averaging 10 minutes of ice time in the Avalanche’s horrific season. So the matchup between the Norwegians — Zuccarello has 79 goals in his 341 career NHL games, all with the Rangers — will come off.
“I think when he’s on his game, he brings us a physical edge,” Bednar said of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Martinsen. “He finishes the body, and I think that when he’s skating and doing that, he’s an effective role player for us. And then we’ve liked him on the penalty kill. … That’s kind of helped him carve out a little niche on our team.”
Said Martinsen: “We’ve had some tough games, obviously, and I’m not seeing that many minutes every game, but I’m feeling like I’m just trying to use the minutes I get and get the best out of it, play my minutes, play physical and help the team that way.”
Martinsen, who was born in Baerum, near Oslo, said hockey participation is spreading in his homeland.
“The national team has been doing pretty good, so the interest is higher,” he said. “We get more and more players each year and hopefully we’ll see some more guys come to the NHL in the next few years. They’re starting to get teams up north and getting new rinks all over. But it takes time. It’s a small country and it’s an even smaller sport in a country where all they care about is skiing and our bad soccer team.”
This is a two-game trip for the Rangers, and they opened it with a 6-3 victory at Arizona on Thursday. Winger Matt Puempel, claimed on waivers from Ottawa in November, had a hat trick. … Former Avalanche winger Chris Drury, whose 2002 trade to Calgary remains one of the most criticized deals in franchise history, is the Rangers’ assistant general manager. He still is the only player to win the Hobey Baker Award (with Boston University) and the Calder Trophy (with Colorado), and he was with the Avalanche for four seasons and had 11 goals in the 2001 playoffs during the run to the Stanley Cup. He doesn’t travel with the Rangers, though, so this won’t be a reunion. … Veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who has been mercurial this season, has missed his last two scheduled starts because of the flu. Antti Raanta has started seven of the Rangers’ last 11 games.
Colorado practiced Friday after its early morning return from Dallas. Semyon Varlamov again wasn’t on the ice because of the groin issues that have made him unavailable since Dec. 23, but coach Jared Bednar said the goalie was making progress. “We expect him back on the ice (with the team) in the next couple of days,” said Bednar, who added that Varlamov had gone on the ice on his own Thursday and was “doing something different” Friday . ... Calvin Pickard again will get the start in net, and Jeremy Smith remains his backup. Terry Frei, The Denver Post
Avalanche left wing Andreas Martinsen is one of only two Norwegian-born players currently active in the NHL. The other is Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers. Andy Cross, The Denver Post