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Norwegians In The Mist

By Chris Middlebrook, 07/29/19, 9:30AM CDT


The 1991 World Championships are held in the middle of March in Helsinki. The US is fielding their best team ever. Although only five holdovers remain from 1989, the new players, including Rick Haney, Mark Perrault, Steve Jecha and Jason Griak, bring a higher level of skill to the team. In addition, the entire US team has competed in the previous October's World Cup in Ljusdal as the Minnesota Reindeer. They know how to play as a team. 1991 is also the World Championship debut of three new bandy nations, Canada, Hungary and Holland. With eight countries competing there is for the first time in World Championship history both an A and a B pool. When the round robin is completed the top team from the B pool will play the bottom team from the A pool in a quarterfinal match.

The US is placed in the B pool. We win our three round robin games, 10-0 over Canada, 20-0 against Hungary, and 8-1 versus Holland. Norway has finished at the bottom of the A pool. On the evening of march 21st the US and Norway meet in the quarterfinal. It is the only match scheduled for that day. Norway and the US have met five times previous on the bandy ice. In Oslo in 1983, the first US match against another national team. A 6-1 Norwegian victory. In 1985 and 1987 in the World Championships. Both games are tied 1-1 at halftime. Both games Norway pulls away in the second half, winning 5-1 and 4-1. The coal soot game in Abakan in 1988. The rink is downwind from a giant smokestack. The soot is visible in the air. It covers the ice in small black granules that quickly dull the skates. After the game the players all cough up soot filled phlegm. Norway wins again. 1989 and the World Championships are played in the 45,000 seat indoor arena in Moscow. The end result is no different. The US enters the Helsinki game against Norway with an 0-5 record. 

There is no coal dust in Helsinki that evening. Instead there is a heavy fog, so dense that from center ice the players cannot see either goal. Visibility is at best twenty yards. Norway scores in the first half, on a shot from 40 yards out. The ball bounces three times before US goalie Tom Regnier can even see it. It is too late. The fourth bounce takes the ball into the net. The halftime score is 1-0 Norway. The heavy fog persists into the second half. The lights attempting to illuminate the rink look like small moons as they give off an eerie glow. Long balls are played through the air but the fullbacks and forwards cannot see them coming. Instead they listen. When they hear the ball land they skate to the sound. Only minutes into the second half Mark Perrault gets the ball near center ice. He dekes one Norwegian defender, then out skates the others. He scores on a breakaway. Back at fullback we are not able to see him score but the yell that goes up from our forwards tells us that the game is now tied at 1-1.

Over the next thirty five minutes the fog continues and the score remains at 1-1. With eight minutes left the US has a corner stroke. The ball is played from the corner to the left of the Norwegian goal. Tom Howard takes the shot. He hits the ball perfectly and it is headed waist high past the Norwegian goalie, into the net. At the last moment a Norwegian skater standing in the wall, on the goal line, thrusts out his stick. The ball hits the shaft of his stick and drops straight down. Just inches outside the goal line. The goalie covers the ball. 

Four minutes remain. Norway has the ball along the sideboards, deep in the US zone to the left of the US goal. Tom Howard is on the Norwegian, cutting him off at the endline. The Norwegian quickly turns back and launches the ball towards the front of the US goal. It deflects off a US defender directly to Pal Ostenssen who is at the right side of the top of the circle. Ostenssen swings at the chest high ball and drives it into the right side of the goal. Norway has won again, but this time thanks only to the shaft of a stick and a brilliant out of the air shot.

The US team completes the tournament with a 13-0 rout of Canada. We have every reason to be both proud and disappointed. The Finnish team is so impressed with the US performance that they invite us to a lunch reception. The Finns give short speeches and applaud our performance in the tourney. They tell us that we have crossed a bandy threshold. The Finns want to show their respect. Individually they shake each of our hands. They honor us. And we are honored.