The dream of National Hockey League
“Dreams are often the most beautiful in life, and he who can not dream, and whose spirit does not look into the distant, he will not achieve anything great either.” This was stated by the German philosopher, politician and Chancellor Gustav Stresemann, who in 1923 received the Nobel Peace Prize. The statement accurately describes the “dream in the distant” of the 14 Danish hockey players, which is the main subjetc in the journalist Michael Søvsø’s new book: “The Danes in the NHL – an exceptionel league” (Lindhardt & Ringhof, 2021), which has just been published.
NHL – One of the world’s strongest sporting leagues
Since he watched his first hockey match in Vojens Skøjtehal as an 8-year-old, Søvsø has had a strong passion for the world’s fastest team sport. Hockey has “gone in the blood” on Søvsø, who has now for more than 25 years written books about Danish hockey and been a freelance journalist about the NHL for i.a. Jyllands-Posten, Information and Herning Folkeblad. Today, Søvsø is also editor-in-chief of the Danish Ice Hockey Federation’s website – Metalligaen.dk. It is thus a highly professionally competent “hockey journalist”, which gives the reader knowledge about 14 boys who for a number of years have trained hard with lots of opt-outs to realize and live out the dream of playing in one of the world’s sporting, financial and spectator strongest leagues. The book begins with two chapters – “Ice Age in Denmark” and “NHL’s Holy Grail” – which gives the reader a solid background knowledge, partly about the start and development of ice hockey in Denmark and partly about the game’s origins in the middle of the 19th century on frozen lakes in Canada and the northern states of the United States. The subsequent power struggles between different federations that the right to organize games for the best teams in North America is also interesting reading – especially for “hockey historians”.
Danish World Championship success – among the world’s 16 best in two decades
The first hockey matches in Denmark were played on Peblingesøen in Copenhagen with KSF as the dominant club. However, it is not until the 1970’s with the construction of indoor ice rinks in many of the municipalities and the “import” of hockey players and coaches from i.a. Canada, USA, Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Sweden that the sport became popular in Denmark, especially among boys in cities such as Vojens, Esbjerg, Herning, Aalborg, Frederikshavn, Rødovre, Herlev, Gladsaxe and Rungsted. The national team long tempted a life in the C-group or the bottom of the B-group, but in the spring of 2002 the National team secured a very surprising promotion to the A-group. The debut at the World Championship 2003 was a sensational 5-2 victory over the United States and 2-2 against the later World Champions from Canada. Subsequently, the National team has continuously managed to maintain status among the world’s 16 best nations with WC quarter-finals against Sweden in 2010 and Finland in 2016 and not least the World Championship 2018 at home in Herning and Copenhagen as sporting highlights.
NHL – lots of myths, rivalries and legends
The story of the world’s best hockey league – NHL – and one of the most iconic sports trophies – the Stanley Cup – is full of myths, anecdotes, rituals and legends. Wayne Gretzky, who achieved a number of points, titles, headlines and records that will never be surpassed in the NHL. Likewise, the story of the “Original Six Era”, where six NHL teams from the major traditional hockey cities – Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhaws and New York Rangers for 25 seasons in a row (1942- 1967) in a 6-team league with more than 70 matches as well as semifinals and finals best of 7 matches, created a rivalry that still lives on today more than half a century later. Søvsø’s fascination with the NHL is obvious, but he also openly refers to one of the sport’s “shadow sides”: Staged fights on the ice, where “a healthy fight has been part of the education as an real hockey player”.
Both victories and defeats – on and off the ice
The book contains 14 chapters about both current and former NHL players who had their upbringing in a Danish hockey club, often followed by a period as a youth player in Sweden or a college player in the USA or Canada. In this way, the reader gets knowledge about Danish hockey’s biggest profiles such as Frans Nielsen, Jannik Hansen, Mikkel Bødker, Peter Regin, Lars Eller and Frederik Andersen, but also gets close to current NHL players such as 25-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers – who already has played nearly 400 NHL games for the Winnipig Jets – and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who in my opinion both have good chances of achieving more than 1,000 NHL games and maybe even Stanley Cup triumphs if they avoid serious injuries. The 14 chapters are really good stories, where Søvsø, using various sources – the players, coaches and teammates, general managers and family members – describe sporting highlights in the form of surprising “drafts”, scores, brutal tackles and “golden” and “broken” contracts. But the stories also contain human disappointments – serious injuries, defeat in the last second of the 7th playoff game and uncertain future prospects.
“Grains of Gold” on the road from talent to top athlete
The portraits of the individual players vary, not least because of the players’ different NHL careers: From Frans Nielsen with 15 seasons and more than 900 NHL games for the New York Islanders and Detroit Reds Wings, Lars Ellers triumph as Stanley Cup winner with Washington Capitals in 2018 to Joachim Blichfeld and Aleksander True, who have just started their NHL careers with the San Jose Sharks. The book’s primary target group is all children, young people and adults who have an interest in and passion for hockey, but also coaches, sports managers and parents who are involved in developing children and young people in other sports can get lots of inspiration in the book . Let me just mention four examples of “grains of gold” from players who have had the abilities and not least the motivation and willingness to “go all the way” from talent to NHL profile.
The first coach is (perhaps) the most important
Peter Regin, who is one of Danish hockey’s very best players with 254 NHL matches for Ottawa Senators, New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks, have the following comment on the importance of a skilled and passionate youth coach in Herning IK: “Todd Björkstrand is the coach and the person who has had the greatest impact on my career. It was he who managed to get me the last piece over the edge. Going forward in your career, going beyond your comfort zone and Todd pushed for me – all the time… He pushed me while I was at an age where it was important to develop further and it hardened me mentally. He had a huge commitment to us young players and it was his will and passion that drove us to stay and for my part get ready to be a professional athlete. I’m extremely grateful for that ”.
Physical exercise is crucial
Todd Bjorkstrand’s son – Oliver – who is currently in his 6’th season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, also gives good advice, which many talents in team sports can listen to with advantage: ” … it has been important to practice all forms of movement. Athletics allowed me to use my body in a completely different way than when I played football and hockey, and the practice for high jump gave me, for example, strength in jumping and swaying in the back. I’m sure. that I have benefited from it later on”.
Only better by playing against older and better players
Frans Nielsen, who has always been a great role model, both on and off the ice, for the other Danish national team and club mates, gives the following advice to talents in team sports, who “only” focus on offensive skills and results: “It always has been important for me to be matched against the older and stronger players. I could develop my technique and dribble when I met my own cohort, but when I met the “old” players, I had to give everything and fight to be with. That way, I got the chance to develop my physique and my work across the course. If you only dominate, you learn nothing about your defensive game. This was also the case in my career ”.
Success over time lies in the details
Lars Eller, who emphasizes “apprenticeship” as a junior player in the Swedish top club Västra Frölunda and a strong family togetherness as particularly valuable for his career, like many other international top players focuses on the details, both in training and matches: “I am very thorough and work systematically. It’s a big part of my personality and my approach to the sport. Every time I practice, I want to be sure that every second of my practice time benefits me on the ice. For example, I always ally myself with the best and most specific coaches in the off-season, and I go to great lengths to find the best ones. I spend time looking for them and it does not matter what it costs…. I have reached an age where I know I will not get faster, bigger or stronger, but I can still get better ”.
Winter Olympic Games 2022 – new dream for Danish NHL players
Danish hockey with “only” 17 clubs and approx. 3,000 players under the age of 18 have – with fantastic support and efforts from parents, coaches and volunteer leaders – come a long way in developing players into the world’s best league – the NHL. The next “step on the journey” – and my personal dream for Danish hockey – is qualification for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. It will be unique to see NHL profiles like Nielsen, Andersen, Eller, Bjorkstrand and Ehlers fight for Olympic medals against NHL stars like Ovechkin, Crosby, McDavid, Kane and Laine – with the whole world as spectators. As targeted training session ahead of the Winter Olympic Games 2022, you should read Søvsø’s excellent book.