Denmark is a fresh face among the elite hockey nations, but it’s firmly established its place in our family, especially in the new millennium. Let’s review the top-10 events in the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship host’s hockey history.
1) Landing IIHF Membership (1946)
After the Second World War, the Danes wasted no time in kickstarting their hockey program. Danmarks Ishockey Union secured IIHF membership on 27 April 1946. Success, of course, didn’t come overnight. When Denmark debuted at the 1949 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, it finished last with a goal difference of 4-90, including an infamous 47-0 loss to Canada. However, the Danes steadily built up their program, and after spending most of the 1960s and 1970s in the old C Pool and the 1990s in the B Pool, they were ready to take on the best.
2) Welcome Back to the Worlds (2003)
Few observers gave the Danes much chance when they returned to the top division in 2003 after a 54-year absence. After all, in recent years, newly promoted nations like France (2000) and Poland (2002) had promptly gotten relegated. Why would the Danes be different? They answered that question by stunning the two North American powers in the tournament in Finland. Peter Hirsch shone in goal as Denmark beat the U.S. 5-2 in its 26 April opener in Tampere and tied Canada 2-2 on 2 May in Turku. That helped the plucky Scandinavians finish 11th. Since then, Denmark has never been relegated.
3) Nielsen Makes NHL Breakthrough (2007)
Frans Nielsen wasn’t the first NHL player born in Denmark. That honour belongs to defenceman Poul Poupiel, who debuted with Boston in 1965/66. However, he learned his hockey in Canada. Nielsen is a Herning-raised centre who polished his skills in Sweden with Malmo IF and Timra IK. On 6 January 2007, he became the first Danish-trained NHLer with the New York Islanders, who chose him in the third round (87th overall) of the 2002 Draft. At age 33 with Detroit, Nielsen is Denmark’s all-time NHL leader in goals (152), assists (271), and points (423). 2018 marks his eighth World Championship participation.
4) First Time in the Quarter-Finals (2010)
At the 2010 Worlds in Germany, the Czechs stole the headlines by beating a stacked Russian roster for gold, while the host nation got rave reviews for its fourth-place finish. Yet Denmark’s feats were just as noteworthy in their own way. For the first time ever, the Danes defeated established nations like Finland (4-1) and Slovakia (6-0). Also, Steffen Lassen’s overtime goal gave them a 2-1 upset over the Americans. The Cinderella run ended when Denmark fell 4-2 to Sweden in the quarter-final. But psychologically, coming eighth was a huge boost.
5) Hansen Cracks Stanley Cup Final (2011)
A 2004 ninth-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks, Jannik Hansen has always endeared himself to teammates with his quick wit and relentless work ethic. But none of that guaranteed the speedy winger NHL success – let alone a berth in the Stanley Cup final. Still, Hansen became the first Dane to play for the fabled silver mug in 2011. The Canucks won the President’s Trophy as the league’s top regular-season team and marched to the final for just the third time ever (1982, 1994). Hansen got three playoff goals, including a memorable breakaway marker in the first-round triumph over archrival Chicago. However, after eliminating Nashville and San Jose, the Canucks heartbreakingly lost Game Seven of the final to Boston, ending Hansen’s hopes.
6) Andersen Fastest to Fifty Wins (2015)
Goalie Frederik Andersen has a habit of setting records. If he isn’t passing Henrik Lundqvist for the most shutouts by a Frolunda Gothenburg goalie (eight) in 2012, he’s establishing a new single-season record for wins by a Toronto Maple Leafs goalie (38) in 2018. However, this low-key Herning native’s most impressive achievement was arguably with Anaheim in 2015. He tied six-time Vezina Trophy winner Bill Durnan’s 1944 record of 50 NHL wins in 68 games. It showed how Andersen benefited from playing at three straight World Championships from 2010 to 2012. Now he’s shining again on home ice.
7) Eighth Is Great in Moscow (2016)
With Worlds finishes of 12th (2013), 13th (2014), and 14th (2015), Danish hockey seemed to be stagnating. However, the 2016 tournament in Russia provided revitalization. Led offensively by Nicklas Jensen, Lars Eller, and Nikolaj Ehlers, Denmark beat Norway, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Kazakhstan in group play. Even though the Danes lost 5-1 to Finland in the quarter-final, they finished eighth. The momentum carried over to the 2016 World Cup of Hockey that fall, as three Danes – Mikkel Boedker, Jannik Hansen and Frans Nielsen – made the final with Team Europe before losing to host Canada.
8) World Junior Team Wows (2017)
It was a magical ride in Montreal as the Danes earned their third straight quarter-final berth. They beat two top nations for the first time in World Junior history. Goalie Kasper Krog registered 34 saves as Denmark edged Finland 3-2. Then Matthias From scored the spectacular 2-1 overtime winner versus the Czechs. Even though Russia blanked coach Olaf Eller’s boys 4-0 in the quarter-final in Toronto, Denmark’s fifth-place finish was its best ever.
9) Ehlers’ Danish NHL Points Record (2017)
Nikolaj Ehlers isn’t just the most entertaining Danish NHLer to watch – he’s also the most prolific. In his sophomore season with the Winnipeg Jets, the 21-year-old forward busted out with 64 points, surpassing the previous single-season mark of 58 by Frans Nielsen (2014). In 2017/18, Ehlers set another new Danish high with 29 goals, and he’s a key player as the Jets build toward their first Cup in franchise history.
10) Denmark Hosts the Worlds (2018)
At the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus, Denmark won the right to host the 2018 Worlds in Copenhagen and Herning, beating out Riga, Latvia. Excitement has been growing for years, and the best is yet to come. At this tournament, the Danes have already given their fans plenty to cheer about, including a 3-2 upset over Finland. The average attendance of 8,237 is higher than in Russia 2016, Finland/Sweden 2012 & 2013, Slovakia 2011 and Switzerland 2009 and the great interest of hockey fans in Copenhagen and Herning will undoubtedly leave a financial legacy for the development of Danish ice hockey. Could a berth at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing lie ahead? It would be its first Olympic ice hockey participation but don’t bet against this little Nordic nation.