Saturday, March 26, 2011

We're Coming Home!

Minnesota bound!
We're both sad and excited to say the season is officially over.  Lillehammer had a good run at playoffs but lost out last night against Sparta.  The semi-finals started Wednesday March 16th with the first game being on Sparta's home ice in Sarpsborg, about 4 hours south of Lillehammer.  Sparta finished in 1st place in the regular season by a long shot.  They're a very physical team that uses hitting to intimidate there opponents a little more than most teams so we knew going into it that this was going to be a pretty tough series. 

Sparta ended up winning the first game 3-1.  The second game was on Friday March 18th in Lillehammer.  For some reason, I wasn't as nervous for this series against the #1 team in the league as I was when they played Hamar (rival) in the first round.  I think everyone was so happy and proud that Lillehammer beat their "curse" and kicked Hamars butts.  By the semi-finals the guys seemed to be a little run down on the ice.  They used up all there energy to beat Hamar and it was hard to get going again for another round.  In the second game, Lillehammer beat Sparta 5-1.  They played just as physical as Sparta and I think that freaked the other team out a bit.  They weren't expecting it.  The game proceeded to get heated very quick and after the 1st period the score was 2-1 and Sparta was frustrated.  When the whistle was blown after the period a few guys from both teams stayed out on the ice and started arguing and pushing each other back and forth.  Soon enough all the players were back on the ice fighting and the refs couldn't really control it.  The fans were screaming and cheering them on.  It was a little scary.  Finally, the coaches came out on the ice and started pushing the guys off and into the locker room.

Game 3 was on Sunday March 20th and back on Sparta's ice.  The games were televised on a local channel so I was tyring to watch but the channel cut out right before the game started.  FRUSTRATING.  Instead, I watched Bridges of Madison County, ha.  Sparta won 4-2 with an empty net goal.  Game 4 was back in Lillehammer on Tuesday so I was able to attend.  Sad to think of it now, but it was my last game to watch:(  The guys looked pretty tired out on the ice but started to pick up the momentum in the 3rd period.  Gino ended up scoring a goal about a minute and 20 seconds left in the period.  At this point it was 2-1, so it looked like Lillehammer still had a chance!  They played tough but couldn't get there.  The game ended with Sparta winning 2-1.  Game 5 of the series was last night....and we all know what happened there.  Sparta won 3-0.  Again, I wasn't able to watch but kept up with the game on  Gino said he was prepared either way, whatever the outcome.  They should be proud of themselves for such a great season and having the best season Lillehammer has had in 9 years.

On another positive note....the beard is coming off!!!  As you can see in the picture, Gino is happy about that too.

We will be leaving on an end of the year trip to Amsterdam and Belgium on Tuesday. (Ill write a seperate entry of our final trip).  After the trip we will fly back to Lillehammer to pack up our apartment and fly home.  We'll find out tomorrow on the exact date of our flight home but we're pretty sure it will be on Monday April 4th.
 All in all, I can not tell you how great the opportunity to live abroad has been for both of us.  I don't know if our experience would have been better or worse in another country, but I'm so thankful to have had such an easy transition being in Norway.  The people we have met have become like family to us and if we were given the chance (and the right $ amount, ha) to return next year we would both be ecstatic.  Either way, Lillehammer will always have a special place in our heart as being the city we made our home during our first year of marriage.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Semi Finals Here We Come!

Assuming you can tell by my title,  Lillehammer made it to semi finals!  It was a great week of hockey and the LIK pulled together and played their butts off.  The 4th and final game of the series ended at Hamar's rink on Thursday the10th.  There was a fan bus that was leaving from the rink in Lillehammer that Jillian and I decided to jump on since neither one of us can drive our cars (stick shift).  Side note:  I'm going to make it a priority to learn how to drive a stick this Summer! 
When we called to make reservations for a spot on the bus, the guy on the other end of the phone didn't speak very good English, so I was a little nervous he didn't understand what we were saying.  We showed up about a half hour early just to make sure we knew where the bus would be picking people up.  Fortunately, we found the bus pretty quickly and went to talk to the bus driver.  Turns out he looked to be in his early 60's, which was a HUGE red flag that he didn't speak any English.  We asked him if this was the bus going to Hamar for the game, and he responded something in Norwegian.  Jillian and I just stared at each other.  I haven't run into many situations where I was unable to communicate with people here.  Today had to be the day! I'm never frustrated because they can't speak English, I'm frustrated because I can't speak their language!   I found a group of women smoking by the rink and asked them if anyone spoke English, fortunately they all did and were happy enough to translate for me.   All the bus driver was trying to tell us was that we have to pay for the ride once we are on the bus. Easy enough!  We jumped on with all the Super Fans dressed in red and white and hit the road.  Apparently, we missed the memo...but this was a drinking fan bus, so most of the people brought on their own beer.  In the 45 min bus ride, we even had to make a pit stop so people could use the bathroom. 

The arena in Hamar was used for the Olympic figure skating competitions in 1994.  It's a pretty big arena and can fit about 6,000.  When we walked in, we found the rest of the wives and Lillehammer fans.  I was  suprised to see that the crowd was half Lillehammer and half Hamar fans.  That made for a very loud and exciting game! Lillehammer scored the 1st goal in the 1st period which gave them the confidence and drive to continue.  Hamar tied it up in the 2nd period and then Gino scored Lillehammers 2nd goal a few minutes later.  With about 3 minutes left in the 3rd period, Gino scored the 3rd and final goal for Lillehammer winning the game.  It was a huge win for Lillehammer and the organization since they haven't made it past the 1st round of playoffs since 2002.  Hamar, the team they beat, hasn't lost in the 1st round of playoffs in 20 years.  You can imagine how ecstatic the fans, management, coaches, and team were that night. Gino called me from the bus and I couldn't make out anything he was saying over the loud cheering and singing from the players.  Must have been a fun ride back to Lillehammer!  Here is the highlight video, click on the word video highlighted in blue.  It's about 14 minutes long but there's a little suprise footage towards the end of Gino's singing talent in the locker room.  You won't want to miss this!
Lillehammer vs. Hamar 4th/Final game of series

Semi finals start on Wednesday the 16th.  Sparta picked Lillehammer to play in this round.  The team is located in Sarpsborg about 2 hours south of Oslo.  Sparta finished 1st in the regular season by a long shot, about 15 points in the standings.  They've kind of been in a class of their own all year.  Lillehammer has beaten them on their own it's possible!  All the games that they have played against Sparta have been close.  Should be an exciting series! 
There are a few playoff traditions that I will be happy to see being Gino's "Jesus" beard he and the rest of the team have been growing out since the first day of playoffs.  It's not too bad now, but I'm dreading to see what it looks like in another 2 weeks.

About 2 weeks worth of growth
Tonight, the management is taking the team and wives out for a steak dinner as a little congrats for making it to the semi finals.  I'll send out another update after the first few games.  Thanks for all the support!

Monday, March 7, 2011

1st Series Playoff Update

Lillehammer started their first series of playoffs last week and I wanted to give everyone an update and a little explanation on how playoffs are run in Norway.

Out of the 10 teams in the Norwegian League the top 8 teams at the end of the regular season move onto playoffs.  The team in 1st place gets to pick between the 7th and 8th place team to play in the 1st round of playoffs, the 2nd place gets to pick whoever's left over between the 1st place pick and then the number 6th seed, and so on.  Lillehammer finished in 5th place and the team that they were picked to play was Hamar (their big rival) which finished in 4th place.  There are 3 series in playoffs and each series they play best of 7 games.  First team to win 4 games wins the series and moves onto the 2nd series.  They play a game everyother day, which is alot but makes for an exciting and busy couple of weeks! 

The 1st game of the series was in Hamar.  The girls and I decided to skip it and just watch the highlights/live score on line...and I'm glad we stayed home.  Turns out Lillehammer lost 1-9!!  Here is an article from that game.
Article- Lillehammer vs. Storhamar March 1st, 2011

The 2nd game was back in Lillehammer. I went to that one and knew that it would be a nail bitter.  You could tell the the guys were fighting for their lives and weren't going to back down.  They played full force almost 4 periods (went into a sudden death period because they were tied up 1-1 after the 3rd).  Lillehammer ended up scoring and man were the fans excited.  It was so great to see the team work unbelievably hard and out score their rival who beat them so bad the game before.  Let's just say, I was chewing my gum so vigorously that I left the arena that night with a headache and a sore jaw!  Here's the highlight video.  Click on the blue writing in the middle of the article "Video....."  Watch for Gino's goal in the 1st period.
Video- Lillehammer vs. Storhamer March 3rd, 2011

As of right now, Lillehammer just finished game #3 lastnight and won 5-2, making the series score 2-1! I stayed home for this game so I was suprised to see Gino limping into the apartment that night.  He blocked a shot with his skate in the 1st period.  He was able to play the rest of the game and the doctors don't think its broken because he can bend and walk on it a bit.  He's on some anti inflammatory pills and just icing it for now.  He went into the arena early this morning and had a little electro pulse something or other done on his foot.  It basically sends fluid into your muscles and has some sort of vibration that is supposed to reduce swelling.  He's going to have the chiropractor work on it tonight and hopefully he will be playing in tomorrows game.
 We picked up a newspaper this morning that had a picture of Gino on the cover after he scored the 5th goal of last nights game on an empty net.  The article talked about how Lillehammer hasn't won a game in the Hamar arena since 2005.  So this was a very big win for the team, coach, and town.  The guys who have played on the team for a while have almost been spooked out of playing in that arena and sort of thought there was a curse on them...well the curse has been lifted! 
Here's a link to the highlight video from lastnight.  Gino is  #8 and no longer wearing the gold helmet.  Points start over again in playoffs.   You can see him scoring the final goal towards the end of the video.
 Video-Lillehammer vs. Storhammer March 6th, 2011 BIG WIN!

Game 4 of the series starts tomorrow at home.   It should be another nail bitter!  I will send out an update at the end of the series.  Fingers crossed they make it to the second round!