Success of Danish hockey: Two national teams at the 2022 Winter OG

There is not necessarily a logical connection between the number of members and a federation’s sporting results. Danish ice hockey is an excellent example of these facts. The Danish Ice Hockey Union (DIU) has only registered a little more than 6,000 members in 17 clubs. In comparison, team sports such as football have registered 310,000 members (DBU), the Danish Handball Association (DHF) has registered 105,000 members, the Danish Basketball Association (DBF) has registered 17,000 members, while Volleyball Denmark has registered 16,000 members. Despite the modest number of players, Danish ice hockey has qualified both the men’s and women’s national teams for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing – one of the biggest surprises of the year in Danish elite sports.

Among the world’s 16 best nations for two decades

It was not until the 1970’s with the construction of indoor ice rinks in many municipalities that ice hockey became a popular sport in Denmark. It happened at the same time as several clubs began to “import” players and coaches from Canada, USA, Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Sweden. However, the development did not have much of an impact on the national team’s results, which only led to an anonymous existence in the C-group or the bottom of the B-group. However, that changed radically in 2002, when the men’s national team very surprisingly secured promotion to the A-group among 16 best nations. The debut at the A-WC 2003 in Finland resulted in a sensational 5-2 victory over the United States and 2-2 against the later world champions from Canada. Subsequently, the men’s national team has continuously managed to maintain status in the A-group with World Championship quarter-finals against Sweden in 2010 and Finland in 2016 as sporting highlights. The A-WC 2018 at home in Herning and Copenhagen was also a sporting highlight, where many enthusiastic spectators gave great media attention, both in Denmark and internationally. Likewise, the number of children under the age of 12 in several ice hockey clubs increased significantly after the A-WC in 2018.

Unique breakthrough for Danish women’s hockey

The vast majority – 5,200 players or more than 85% of the registered members of DIU – are boys under 18 or male senior players. The number of girls under the age of 18 who play ice hockey is a modest 600 and only a little more than 200 female senior players have been registered. Despite these facts, the women’s national team has achieved very good results, especially in the last two seasons. After a number of years in the B-group, in 2020 the women’s national team succeeds in qualifying for the A-WC 2021 in Canada, where, however, it was a defeat in all matches. The bottom two teams at A-WC 2021 would normally relegate to Group B, but relegation was suspended as the B-WC 2021 was not held due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This means that Denmark will host the A-WC 2022, which only consists of 10 nations, in the period August 26 – September 4 , where Frederikshavn is home to Denmark’s preliminary matches. The promotion to the A-WC was followed by a very surprising Olympic qualifier ahead of Germany (No. 8 in the world rankings), Austria and Italy in early November 2021. The Danish women’s national team is of course expecting some difficult Olympic matches against strong ice hockey nations like the Czech Republic (February 7) and Sweden (February 8), whereas the opening match against the host nation China (February 4) and Japan (February 5) in advance resembles equal matches.

The road to the NHL through Swedish youth hockey

Several of the player profiles on the women’s national team, such as Josefine Jakobsen (Djurgårdens IF), Nicole Søndergaard Jensen (Luleå HF) and Josefine Persson (Luleå HF) have for a number of years played for Swedish top clubs. Similarly, the vast majority of male players who have achieved a career as NHL players have had a shorter or longer period as youth players in Sweden. This applies i.a. the 37-year-old Frans Nielsen, who made his NHL debut in 2007 and scored more than 900 NHL appearances for New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings. Nielsen received a large part of his education as a hockey player in Malmö Redhawks and Timrå IK. Also Danish top players like Mikkel Bødker, who played more than 700 NHL matches for i.a. Phoenix Coyotes and Ottawa Senators, Lars Eller, who in 2018 became the first Danish Stanley Cup winner with Washington Capitals and Frederik Andersen (Carolina Hurricanes), who today are among the NHL’s best goalkeepers, have benefited greatly from a stay as junior players at Frölunda HC in Gothenburg – the club that has developed the most NHL players in the world.

Targeted talent strategy, strong team spirit and “Swedish” playing style

There are many different reasons why a nation with as few registered players as Denmark can achieve such great success. Morten Green, who for a number of years played for Swedish elite league clubs such as Leksand IF, MODO Hockey and Malmö Redhawks and who so far has played the most national team matches – 316 – for Denmark, has the following explanations for the Danish national team’s success: “Both the Danish Ice Hockey Union and more Danish top clubs developed and implemented in the early 00’s targeted talent strategies, which were very useful for the development of the individual youth players, both physically, technically and tactically. There was also a really good team spirit, both on the U18, U20 and senior national team, where we liked to be together, both on and off the ice. There were not 80-100 potential players to choose from for the individual national teams as in big hockey nations like Sweden, Finland and Russia. It was maybe only 20-25, so we had to fight and work hard for each other. Finally, we had great pleasure from experienced head coaches from Sweden such as. Jim Brithén (1996-2001), Mikael Lundström (2001-2006), Per Bäckman (2008-2013) and Janne Karlsson (2013-2018), who all emphasized a solid organization in the defensive game and with room for individual attacking performances . Many of us knew the “Swedish” style of play and at the same time our “Swedish” head coaches had some really good human qualities that fit well with the mentality of Danish players “, says the captain, who played 19 World Championships in a row (1999 – 2017) – a record, which will probably never be surpassed.

The 2022 Winter Olympics – also a dream for the Danish NHL profiles

For all Danish hockey players – both Nielsen, Bødker, Ellers, Andersen and current NHL profiles such as 25-year-old Nikolaj Ehlers – who have already played almost 400 NHL games for the Winnipig Jets – and peers Oliver Bjorkstrand (Columbus Blue Jackets) it is a dream come true when the puck is thrown in the first Olympic match against the Czech Republic (February 9). The Czech Republic is of course – like Denmark’s two other opponents in the preliminary Olympic group: Russia (February 11) and Switzerland (February 12) – favorites against the Olympic debutants. Also for the female national team players in ice hockey, the Olympics is a dream come true – and which may also be a unique event for most athletes. But in elite sports – also in ice hockey – there will always be surprises. And the Danish “lions” can (perhaps) also reach far at the 2022 Winter Olympics through a strong team spirit.

You can read more about the 2022 Winter Olympics here:

Danmarks Ishockey Union