Crookston native and former second-round NHL draft pick Paul Bittner is heading to Norway this Saturday to compete in the Fjordkraft-ligaen league for the Stavanger Oilers.

Bittner was the 38th overall selection in the 2015 NHL draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets and has since had multiple stops in other leagues. Before being drafted, Bittner left Crookston after his 9th-grade year to play Juniors in the Western Hockey League (WHL) for the Portland Winterhawks. After being drafted, Bittner played for the Cleveland Monsters in the American Hockey League (AHL) up until 2020. He also had the opportunity to play in a couple of preseason games with the Blue Jackets during that stretch as well. Since then, he has been playing overseas with his most recent stop being with the Dusseldorfer EG of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga League in Sweden.

Bittner has had lots of success on the ice over the years, but also multiple setbacks due to injuries. “Last year I pulled my groin in Sweden so that set me back a bit,” said Bittner. “Then this year in February during Olympic break, in a 3v3 drill, it was actually the last drill of the day, I was standing in front of the net, and I just wanted to get a deflection off my stick, and the shot happened to hit my stick, but it popped right up and hit me in the face and broke my jaw. So that was unfortunate.”

Everything including the injuries has happened for a reason, and Paul said he is excited for this new opportunity in Norway this upcoming season. “Basically, the agents put names out to leagues to see if they’re interested and that is sort of how I got set up here in Norway after Sweden,” said Bittner. “I also know the coach Todd Bjorkstrand because I played with his son Oliver for roughly 5-6 years both in Portland together and in the Blue Jackets organization. I would say me and Oliver have a good relationship and are close but I also think that I and Todd have a good relationship as well. He is an excellent coach, and he has won in every league he is in so he is well respected and when it came down to it and I had this opportunity, it ended up really being a no-brainer for me.”

Another reason that made Norway a compelling option for Bittner to continue his career was just how good the Stavanger Oilers are, and how good the league itself is. “Norway is a great league. It’s maybe not the best league in Europe but it’s a great chance to keep playing and maybe get noticed by some of those other leagues,” said Bittner. “The team I’ll be playing with is great, kind of like how Soccer does a Champions League, so does this league and there in the Champions League so this also gives me a great opportunity to keep showcasing my skills across Europe.”

Bittner is hopeful for an entire season this year after injuries have halted his play each of the past two years. Since the start of the 2020-2021 season, Bittner has played in just 51 regular season games. During that stretch, he tallied 13 goals and 14 assists. His contract for this upcoming year in Norway with the Oilers is a one-year deal. “The contract I have is for 9 months, and training camp begins here on August 1,” said Bittner. “The games will begin in September, and everything wraps up in April if we’re able to make the finals. So will see how this year goes and then go from there.”

After suffering multiple injuries, the grind of playing overseas, and the constant travel that it involves, many players may have hung up the skates or moved on, but Bittner was very clear on why he still plays the sport, even after those tough breaks, and injuries. “I love the game and really that’s the end of the story,” said Bittner. Since I was 3-4 years old, I was on skates skating around, so I truly have always loved the game. Since I was a kid my goal once entering professional hockey was to play wherever I could for as long as I could. Being able to do it in Europe has certainly given me a broader aspect of life and culture as well. We have a couple of weeks off during the season so we can travel to Switzerland or different places, and it’s just been a great experience. So, I’m not ready to give up playing professional hockey no matter where it is until I feel like I can’t play anymore. It’s way too much fun.”

While Bittner will continue developing his game and hope to play at the highest level possible, for now, he is going to focus on this upcoming season and the opportunity that is in front of him. “The end goal would still be to play in the NHL, but unfortunately a lot of my time has come and passed,” said Bittner. “With some of those injuries I’ve had and the time I’ve played in the AHL it’s been tough to showcase what I have to offer. Like I said before though playing in Europe is a blast and I really look forward to continuing doing that.”