OSLO, Norway — Skittering late into the hockey game Tuesday, our group was forced aside by men carrying a stretcher with one of our players on it.

Maybe we shoulda turned around then, because, later, our Halden Comets were going to get their arses handed to them by the Frisk Tigers.

“Frisk” in Norsk means “Fresh.” I’d learned that word from apple juice boxes, and then one of the Comet players turned out to be named Frisk, which is just rad.

Imagine a professional athlete Stateside named Fresh. Maybe there already is one.

But one Frisk against a whole team of them, well, it was too much freshness.

The Saturday before, I’d attended the season opener for the Norwegian Ice Hockey Federation. The rinks here are designed so the team and the fans are barely separated.

This, uh, “intimate” setting allows for stray pucks to streak over the wee wall and hurtle into the crowds, giving new meaning to the banner in the Frisk Tigers stadium, which translates to “Bleed for your Team.”

Being an American, I figured that message was for the players. But on ice, fighting is a no-go. Hockey throw-downs are quietly encouraged in North America, teaching millions of youngsters the benefits of pulling an opponent’s shirt over his head before raining down the bodyblows.

I’m not sure where Norwegian kids learn to fight, but it’s not on the rink.

At the season opener, I discovered the first scorer on each team was rewarded with a golden, C-3PO-lookin’ helmet, and then was later disappointed when a second goal didn’t warrant a set of golden pads. “I scored twice at Vaalerenga and all I got was this golden helmet and a point!”

At the second away game, 50 of us huddled together in a sea of green and gold, banished to one corner of the rink. Frisk cheerleaders had ponytails, mini skirts, pompons. They danced the Robot whether the loudspeakers bleated the “Night at the Roxbury” soundtrack or AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”

Our cheerleaders, all two of them, wore jeans and black hoodies with “Cheerleader” printed on the back. No dance moves. The bigger girl simply whistled so loud the entire arena had bleeding ears.

They were my kind of cheerleaders, which makes sense, because Halden is my kind of place. The border town is filled with solid, working-class people, not a candypants in sight. And despite being a professional hockey team, most Comet players hold down day jobs. With few sponsors and a busted Zamboni back home, it made sense.

But it also might explain the severe 9-3 beating they took from the Frisky Tigers. At least Tiger fans enjoyed their win in a predictable manner.

The previous Saturday, fans of the Vaalerenga Lions would sing, chant, whistle and stomp regardless of what was going on. They hollered as the game was tied, they screamed when a five-minute sudden-death match yielded no score, they lost their minds when the snack stand announced the popcorn was ready.

Those suckers just would not shut up. And then, yes, we lost the shoot-out.

But like I said, Halden breeds toughies and I love an underdog.


Boulder expatriate Jeanine Fritz’s weekly musings on life and winter sports in Norway appear in the Colorado Daily every Friday.