For Mathea Fischer, having the opportunity to put on a Norwegian jersey and represent her country is something she cherishes.
“We’re all really lucky to be able to get that opportunity to represent your country,” said Fischer. “There are a lot of girls that look up to [the Norwegian women’s team], we have a great opportunity and we should be really thankful to be given that opportunity.”
“It’s an honour to get to wear the Norwegian jersey with the ice bear on the chest and go out and play for that. I think you’re playing for a lot more than you think, you have your whole country behind you and I think that’s an honour.”
Fischer, who is currently the only player on the Norwegian national team playing outside of Europe, is a forward with the University of British Columbia (UBC). This year is a big one for Fischer, who has six goals and four assists through 15 regular season games with UBC so far this season. Along with UBC’s push to return to the CIS National Championships for the second year in a row, Fischer is a key component of Norway’s push to qualify for the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics. Norway’s journey to PyeongChang became a reality in December at the Olympic Qualification Preliminary Round 3 Group F tournament.
The final game of the tournament was close, with Norway leading Slovakia only 3-2 at the end of the second period. However, Norway exploded in the third period, scoring three unanswered goals to finish the tournament unbeaten and confirm their spot in one of two Final Olympic Qualification tournaments taking place this February.
“For that first qualification I think our coaches did a really good job of preparing us and having set a good pre-camp for us, so we felt prepared going into the tournament,” said Fischer, who led her team in goals (3) and points (6) at the tournament. “The older players in the team were really good at mentoring some of us younger ones and I think we had a really good harmony in the team that was the key to our success.”
Besides beating Slovakia 6-2, Norway also beat Hungary 4-0 and Kazakhstan 5-0. While offence has been a concern for Norway in the past, it was one of their strengths at this tournament, with multiple players contributing to the scoreboard. The goaltending from 16 year old Ena Nystrom was also one of Norway’s strengths.
The PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics are just over a year away, and there are two qualifier teams that are yet to be determined that will join USA, Canada, Finland, Russia, Sweden and South Korea in PyeongChang. In a month’s time, the final two teams to qualify will be determined at two Final Olympic Qualification tournaments, one in Arosa, Switzerland, and one in Tomakomai, Japan. Norway will be competing against Switzerland, Czech Republic, and Denmark in the Group C tournament in Switzerland for one of the two coveted qualifier spots.
“I think the biggest thing for us is bringing the collective, having every player contributing and accepting their role,” Fischer said about the upcoming tournament. “Playing for what’s in the front of your jersey and just giving everything you have, leaving it all out. I mean, other teams might have, I don’t know, more skill, more depth on their team, but I think our biggest chance is just to go out there and leave it all out on the ice and just play for each other and play for our country and do our very best.”
Norway knows that their competition will be tough and that they are entering the tournament as the underdogs. However, that is not stopping them from entering the tournament with a lot of determination to make their country proud – and as Fischer states, Norway’s success on the international stage and their opportunity to possibly compete in the Olympics is closely linked to the growth of female hockey in Norway.
“Our biggest goal has always been to qualify for the Olympics and we have that right in front us, so it’s just up to us right now,” said Fischer. “Then our goal is to make it to the top division and I think that’s something that we can be able to do in the future. I mean, we have a young team right now, and that just shows that female hockey is growing in Norway I think.”
While Fischer’s generation grew up playing hockey with boys, in recent years several Norwegian clubs have started programs just for girls. In the city of Stavanger, a high school program for girls (where they train on the ice and in the gym together) has been formed, and tournaments for girls are becoming more common.
Having girls play outside of Norway in North America and in the top leagues in countries like Sweden has also helped grow the female side of the game. Fischer, for example, moved to Canada at the age of 15 to join the Ontario Hockey Academy, where she was exposed to a highly competitive environment that has helped develop her into a consistent and determined athlete.
“Having to be able to practice in a competitive environment everyday, and I mean playing against really tough teams and really good competition every weekend, I think it just helps you develop as a player,” said Fischer. “You have to perform at your best all the time and I think that really … develops that urge to want to get better. So I feel like that is something that I’ve hopefully brought with me to Team Norway and hopefully that has helped a little bit for when I go back and play there, just to get good habits and compete all the time and battle hard and work hard at every practice.”
Norway opens the Final Olympic Qualification Group C tournament on February 9 against Czech Republic before facing Switzerland on February 11 and then finally Denmark on February 12. The winner of the tournament will qualify to compete at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.