Hockey on hold

Just as race was shaping up, COVID-19 pauses league play; numerous players test positive

hockey on hold

Photo: Carina Johansen
Signs of the times: Stavanger’s home venue, DNB Arena, puts signs on seats to create social distancing between the fans who were allowed admittance in order to have social distancing. Sign says, “Please do not sit here.”

MICHAEL KLEINER
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

Last hockey season, Stavanger was on a historical roll. They set a team record by scoring a point in each of the first 17 games that included a nine-game and seven-game winning streak. At the end of the regular season, the Oilers had 113 points (34 regulation wins-4 overtime wins-3 overtime losses-4 regulation losses), 23 points ahead of runner-up Storhamar. 

But like a jail cell door, the playoff door clanged shut. No admittance, COVID. Playoffs canceled. There would be no restarts like with the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA).

At that time, the coronavirus was new, so our awareness of its potential severity was unknown. Everyone assumed sports would resume shortly in home stadiums and arenas with fans in place.

Ten months later, our knowledge about the disease is greater; we know there are precautions we can take. A vaccine is starting to be distributed. Yet, there seems to be a surge in cases in the sports world. The NBA and NHL, which returned in the summer in a bubble environment in one city, found success but now are trying to start new seasons in home cities and arenas without fans. About 10 games into the season the NBA was running into problems with players testing positive. The NHL was scheduled to start Jan. 13.

In Norway’s Fjordkraft hockey league, Stavanger got off to a slow start but has been coming on and moving up the standings. Frisk Asker got off to a strong start, then hit a slide and are in second place. At the midway point, nine points separated first-place Storhamar and fifth-place Lillehammer. An exciting second half loomed.

In the first week in January, several games scheduled through Jan. 17 were postponed, seven involving Sparta Sarpsborg, which (as of Jan. 9) had played 19 games to Narvik’s 27. Then, the full slate of games on Jan. 9 were scrapped, and the season was put on pause. This time, there’s a full-fledge epidemic in the league, and as it seems with all sports, news can change by the hour or less.

On Jan. 11, Stjernen reported more than 20 positive coronavirus cases among the team, with positive results at Storhamar, Sparta Sarpsborg, Stavanger, Frisk Asker, and Manglerud, a total of at least 50 people in the league. Some referees have been affected.  

hockey

Photo: Carina Johansen / NTB scanpix
American Dan Kissel (37) skates away from Storhamar’s Martin Ronnild in a December 2020 game. The hockey season was put on pause Jan. 9 after a coronavirus outbreak among several teams, including Stavanger and Storhamar.

“The infection situation now is so complex and difficult to handle, that we see the need to pause the league until we can once again conduct matches in a responsible manner,” the Norwegian Ice Hockey Association wrote on Twitter.

 A few hours later, Stavanger reported seven new cases, for 15 total, all players, and Vålerenga its first two, pending other results. Grüner, Lillehammer and Narvik were the only teams free of infection, for now.

An emergency committee was set up with people representing clubs, associations, and Norwegian top hockey. The first division men’s and elite series women’s seasons were added to the suspension of play.

“We want to play as many matches as possible, both in terms of sports and finances,” said Secretary General Ottar Eide of the Norwegian Ice Hockey Association to NTB on Jan. 11. 

“We are working on a plan and will go on a tour with the clubs during the week about how the situation is, and about when we can start up again,” said Eide.

Later in the week, the league said the earliest they could restart was Jan. 26. Then, they were subject to the government’s two-week ban on games from Jan. 20. On Jan. 19, Norwegian Ice Hockey Association President Tage Pettersen told NTB there was no way a full schedule could be completed and worried about the fiscal health of several teams. 

Everyone is staying optimistic that the season my resume. For up-to-date information, visit: www.flashscore.com/hockey.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 29, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.

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