The team’s key victory was a 6-1 decision over France on Friday. Both teams entered the game with six points and the winner was almost certain to advance. After figuring in on 11 of his team’s 16 goals through the first three games, Johnsen scored Norway’s fifth goal against France with the victory already in hand, but was otherwise held off the scoresheet.
“Our line wasn’t the best today, so some other guys stepped up,” Johnsen said after the game. “It was good for them to score some goals and it was a good team win. We played very well defensively, good power play, good 5-on-5.”
Johnsen started the tournament with a bang, scoring Norway’s first two goals in the first period of the first game against Kazakhstan, and finished the game with three goals and two assists in a 9-2 win. Right winger Mats Bakke Olsen had four points in the game, and is second in tournament points with 10. Kasper Magnussen plays the left side and has six points through four games.
“My whole line is playing well,” said Johnsen. “It’s easy to play with them and we have good chemistry together and our power play has been going well, so we’ve scored a lot of goals.”
Norway’s only loss so far came in its second game against Slovakia. Two goals by Bakke Olsen, both assisted by Martin, had Norway up 2-1 after one period, but on home ice, urged on by a capacity crowd at the Piestany Ice Rink, the star-studded Slovaks came back to win 5-2. Defenceman Simon Nemec, projected to be one of the top picks at this year’s NHL Entry Draft, recorded two assists in his only game of the tournament. Top 2005-born prospects Dalibor Dvorsky, Ondrej Molnar and Alex Ciernik were also in the lineup.
“They have a lot of good players, so I tried to be a little bit better than them but it’s difficult,” said Johnsen. “They have a good team – I think they’re one of the best under-18 teams in the world. I think we played alright but they were a little bit better than us. We lost but we knew there were two places, so as long as we don’t lose any other games, we will be okay.”
The son of former Norwegian offensive stalwart Pal Johnsen, Martin was born in Hamar and grew up playing for Storhamar, one of Norway’s elite hockey clubs. But eventually, if a Norwegian wants to go far as a hockey player, Sweden is the place to go.
“When I was playing under-16, we played against a good Swedish team and they contacted me,” he said. “Swedish hockey is very high level so it was an easy decision for me.”
Farjestad Karlstad, one of Sweden’s most storied clubs, is located less than 100 km from the border, so it tends to be a popular destinations for Norwegians. Jonas Holos, Andreas Bastiansen and Lars Haugen are among Norwegian national team players that have ended up there.
“Hamar is three hours by car from Karlstad, so it’s not far. I can visit home and my family can come to visit and watch me play,” said Johnsen.
The 2021/22 season has been an eventful one for Johnsen, with many firsts. Prior to this season, he had never played higher than the U18 level, but this season he became a regular in the J20 Nationell, Sweden’s top junior league. There, he recorded 23 points in 29 games.
“That’s a good league,” said Johnsen. “I think it’s easier to play under-20 than under-18 because there’s better structure, so it’s easier to know what you’ve gotta do. This year has been easier for me than last year.”
He’s also been in the lineup for 11 games in Sweden’s top pro league, the SHL, although he’s seen limited ice time.
“Oh, it’s such a good league, so you have to be focused and play your best every single shift,” Johnsen marvelled. “Many of the players have played in the NHL and they’re big,” he laughed. “I’m not the biggest guy, so I try to be smart and use my hockey IQ.”
Asked to name the best players in the league, he said: “The best player I’ve played against is Linus Ullmark in Lulea. He’s a very good player; lots of skills. And Joakim Nygard on my team. He’s pretty fast; a very good player.”
A couple of other firsts for Johnsen this season have been representing Norway at the U20 and now the U18s in Piestany. In December, Johnson recorded four points in five games as Norway finished third at the U20 World Championship Division I Group A, but was agonizingly close to winning.
“Two years ago, I played a few under-16 games and maybe I could have played under-18 but there’s been Covid for a couple years, so it’s been very cool to finally wear this jersey,” Johnsen said about the circumstances that delayed what might have happened in 2020 and surely would have in 2021.
Johnsen’s accomplishments this season have put him on the radar of NHL scouts.
“I try not to think about it too much,” he said about the prospect of being drafted. “It’s the stuff on the ice that’s important.”
Asked about the prospect of playing in the NHL some day, Johnsen admitted: “I think every hockey player has that dream. It would be cool.”
Indeed, it’s been a while since a Norwegian player has made an impact in the league. Surprisingly, there have only been eight Norwegian-born players in the NHL and none has debuted since Andreas Martinsen in 2015.
“Mats Zuccarello is a good player but he’s the only one,” Johnsen said about the veteran Minnesota Wild winger. “In the past, Espen Knutsen was good also.”
Looking beyond the summer, Johnsen said: “I hope to play as much in the SHL as possible. That’s my goal for next season.”