Friday is face-off time for fast-improving ice hockey force

Danes looking to relive past glories at the IIHF World Championships in Stockholm and Helsinki

Many remember 2010 as a legendary year for Danish ice hockey. That year, the underdogs on ice beat perennial powers Finland, Slovakia and the USA on their way to eventually losing to Sweden in the quarter-finals and coming a sensational eighth place. 


And now with the players who triumphed in 2010 again on board, the spirits are high in the Danish camp as they make their final preparations before heading to Stockholm to participate in the 2012 Ice Hockey World Championships, which are being jointly hosted by Sweden and Finland.


Head coach, Per Bäckman, revealed a 25-man roster on Tuesday that includes four NHL players thus far, including star forward Frans Nielsen, who plys his trade for the New York Islanders and who racked up a goal and three assists in Denmark’s defeat of Italy in their final exhibition match on Tuesday night.. 


“We feel that we have a better team than in Germany [in 2010], when we reached the quarter-finals,” Nielsen told DR Sporten. “I think that we have been so good that we don’t have to just survive anymore, but go for the win in every game. I believe that we have the potential to reach another quarter-final and that’s what we have to fight for.”


Nielsen is among the group of four NHL players who have joined the Danish team, which also includes Lars Eller (Montreal Canadiens), Philip Larsen (Dallas Stars), and Jannik Hansen, who is a surprise addition after his heavily favoured Vancouver Canucks were ousted in the first round of the NHL playoffs.


When it comes to assessing the strengths of the opposition, Nielsen said that it was difficult to say because it depends on which teams progress in the current NHL playoffs, as is the case with Mikkel Bødker, whose Phoenix Coyotes are still playing. Some players may even join the team after the tournament has started.


“There are many players still playing over in the NHL, and you don’t really know who the other teams will be getting back,” Nielsen told DR Sports. “We are waiting and watching the news a bit every day trying to figure out who the others have on their teams.”


One player who unfortunately won’t be playing for Denmark is young winger Nicklas Jensen, who suffered a concussion while playing for his US-based team. Also, the top scorer for Denmark in last year’s tournament, Mads Christensen, pulled out on Tuesday after being admitted to Herlev Hospital with a severe migraine.


Although the pre-tournament exhibition matches have been a mixed bag of nuts for the Danes – including wins against France, Latvia, Slovakia and Italy, and losses against Norway, Latvia (who they played more than once) and a Russian B-team – the addition of the NHL players has given them a significant boost.


But, it will be a tough road ahead if the Danes are to emulate their quarter-final appearance two years ago, believes goalkeeper Frederik Andersen.


“We need to play trademark Danish ice hockey: hard work and intelligent play,” Andersen told DR Sports. “We’re not the strongest team there; Sweden, Russia and Czech Republic are probably the toughest in our group, so there are four other games we need to get points from.”


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 Stockholm (Group S – Denmark’s group), 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.


Basically, if you find yourself in Helsinki watching the Danes play, you are witnessing nothing short of a miracle, because it will mean they are among the top four nations in the world. 


But if you don’t see yourself taking in the biggest annual winter sports event live, fret not. TV2 Sport will be covering the tournament, including all of Denmark’s games. Denmark play their opening game against Czech Republic, a team they have never beaten, on May 4 at 16:45. 


There is one important success that is already in place for the Danish ice hockey team. As opposed to the national football team, the ice hockey players are actually allowed to use social media such as Twitter and Facebook during the tournament.


If you have a penchant for betting, it is worth pointing out that Denmark are 13/1 to beat the Czechs, 200/1 to win their group.


Factfile: Denmark’s opponents


Czech Republic

May 4, 16:15

World Ranking: 5th 

Key player: David Krej?í –

Boston Bruins (NHL)

Have Denmark beaten them before? No

Denmark’s chances: 10%



May 6, 12:15

World Ranking: 17th

Key player: Giulio Scandella  – HC Pustertal (Italy)

Have Denmark beaten them before? Yes

Denmark’s chances: 70%



May 7, 20:15

World Ranking: 3rd 

Key player: Henrik Zetterberg – Detroit Red Wings (NHL)

Have Denmark beaten them before? No

Denmark’s chances: 10%



May 10, 16:15

World Ranking: 1st 

Key player: Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL)

Have Denmark beaten them before? No

Denmark’s chances: 5%



May 12, 16:15

World Ranking: 8th 

Key player: Marcel Goc – Florida Panthers (NHL)

Have Denmark beaten them before? Yes

Denmark’s chances: 55%



May 14, 16:15

Latvia, World Ranking: 12th

Key player: Kaspars 

Daugavi?š – Ottawa Senators (NHL)

Have Denmark beaten them before? Yes

Denmark’s chances: 50%



May 15, 12:15

World Ranking: 9th 

Key player: Patrick Thoresen – SKA Saint Petersburg (Russia)

Have Denmark beaten them before? Yes

Denmark’s chances: 65%



World Ranking: 13th 

Key player: Frans Nielsen – New York Islanders (NHL)