Ice to meet you,” the Schwarzenegger-esque character Rainier Wolfgang from ‘The Simpsons’ once told a group of bad guys before gunning them down in a hail of bullets. Denmark will be hoping to use a hail of pucks to dispatch their adversaries as the Ice Hockey World Championships is set to start in early May.
Jointly hosted by Finland and Sweden and stretching from May 4-20, the championship is the biggest annual winter sporting event in the world.
This year’s edition will see a new format introduced. Some 16 teams will compete in two preliminary round group stages, with the top four from each group progressing to the quarter-finals. The teams that finish last in each group will be relegated to the lower division.
The preliminary groups will be played in Helsinki (Group H) and in Stockholm (Group S), and the quarter-finals (rather bizarrely – presumably to accommodate travelling fans) will also be played within the groups, meaning that the teams will stay in their respective group cities until the medal games, which are all in Helsinki.
Denmark is in group S with Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, Norway and Italy.
Russia, Czech Republic and hosts Sweden, who lost last year’s final to Finland, are the hockey giants of Denmark’s group, but since the top four progress to the quarter-finals, Denmark has a decent chance to make it.
The Danish coach, Per Bäckman (a Swede), is under no illusions about what he needs to achieve success: NHL players. He also realises that for them to come, their NHL teams have to miss the playoffs, which coincides with the Ice Hockey World Championships.
“I’m hoping for three, that’s half of them, but I have learned that you don’t know for sure they are coming until they are on the ice,” Bäckman told TV2 Sport. “We hope that their NHL teams don’t make the playoffs, because then we can get them home and the Danish fans can see our best players in action.”
Traditionally, Denmark has not been known for its hockey prowess, but in the last ten years it has managed some impressive results, going from traditional whipping boys to a team the bigger teams don’t underestimate anymore. The champs in 2010 saw the Danes achieve their best ever placing, beating perennial powers Finland and USA before falling to Sweden in the quarter-finals, finishing eighth.
Danish hockey has been in scintillating development in recent years, and since Frans Nielsen joined the NFL as the first Dane in 2006, several of his countrymen have followed suit. Aside from the NHL boys, the Danish team is made up of a host of players who not only play in the improving Danish league, but also the stronger Swedish and German leagues.
Philip Larsen, one of the six Danish players plying their trade in the NHL, said that the Danes have set a high goal, and it all starts with a strong showing in Sweden/Finland.
“I think our next goal is to play at the Olympics. We’ll try to get some good results at this year’s World Championship,” Larsen told IIHF.com. “I know [Sochi 2014] is far away, but hopefully we can get a good result and qualify.”
Denmark faces stiff competition in their opener, as they take on the Czech Republic on May 4. Coach Bäckman knows that his team must be their very best if they are to get a surprise result against a Czech team that won the bronze last year.
Team: New York Islanders
NHL 2011-12 stats:
75 games, 15 goals, 24 assists
Frans Nielsen is the original trailblazer: the first Dane to make the trip over to the big time in the NHL. Last year he was voted one of the most underrated players in the NHL and fortunately for Denmark, he plays for the crappy NY Islanders. They will not make the playoffs and Nielsen can therefore play for Denmark. He is also one of the best penalty takers in the game, which is tougher than it sounds.
Team: Ottawa Senators
10 games, 2 goals, 2 assists
Unfortunately for Denmark and Regin, he suffered a serious season-ending shoulder injury and hasn’t played since December. As a result, he will not feature at the World Champs. Fortunately, Denmark is well equipped in his position at centre as both Frans Nielsen and Lars Eller play there.
Team: Dallas Stars
49 games, 2 goals, 6 assists
Larsen would be a major asset for the Danish team as he is their only defenceman playing in the NHL. This season, his breakthrough year, saw Larsen establish himself for the Dallas Stars, and he is one of the brightest defensive talents in the league. Larsen’s Stars are on the borderline for the playoffs, equal on points with Bødker’s team, so he could also be available for Denmark.
Position: Right Winger
Team: Vancouver Canucks
76 games, 15 goals, 20 assists
Regrettably, the most successful player in the NHL, in terms of wins and playoff success, will be highly doubtful for the Danes. His Vancouver Canucks, who lost in the Stanley Cup finals last year, are currently sitting second in their conference and are poised to make another extended run in the playoffs. Hansen is most certainly an experienced NHL’er who will be sorely missed in May, unless his Canucks underperform in the playoffs.
Position: Right Winger
Team: Phoenix Coyotes
77 games, 9 goals, 11 assists
Mikkel Bødker is the highest ever drafted player from Denmark, picked eighth in the first round, but unfortunately, he has not lived up to expectations so far in the NHL. Still, he would be a valuable asset to Denmark, and his Coyotes currently sit on the brink of the playoffs, so there’s a decent chance he may be available during the World Champs.
Team: Montreal Canadians
73 games, 16 goals, 12 assists
If his club permits him to suit up for the Danes, he will have no problem making it to the tournament. Eller’s Canadians are one of the worst teams in the NHL and currently sit rock bottom of their conference. Eller is going through a bit of a breakout season for Montreal, even managing to score four goals in a single game. Chances are looking really good that he will have the opportunity to do the same for Denmark in May.