HERNING, Denmark — Danish hockey is on the rise, even though the Danish hockey team has been knocked out of the world championships.
The national team’s early elimination at its first world championships on home ice can hardly overshadow the boost the tournament has given the sport in the country.
"I hope it spreads awareness of hockey in Denmark for a lot of families and hopefully they’ll try to get their kids to play hockey," Columbus Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand said. "Hopefully it gets more hockey kids involved and more media attention on hockey, of course. It’s something we’re hoping for at this tournament."
The progress has been obvious.
In 2003, Denmark advanced to the top international division for the first time in 54 years and has not been relegated since. The country reached the quarterfinals twice and managed to beat big teams, including the United States.
Center Frans Nielsen then opened a new era in 2007 by joining the New York Islanders. Currently with the Detroit Red Wings, Nielsen has 423 points in the NHL with 152 goals and 271 assists in 764 games.
Others soon followed.
Denmark currently has seven players in the NHL, and five of them played for their country at this year’s worlds, including Nielsen and Bjorkstrand. The others were Toronto Maple Leafs No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen and two San Jose Sharks forwards, Jannik Hansen and Mikkel Boedker.
In 2011, Hansen became the first Dane to play the Stanley Cup finals with the Vancouver Canucks.
At the world championships, Denmark beat Germany, Finland, Norway and South Korea but lost to Latvia 1-0 on Tuesday and missed out on the quarterfinals.
Perhaps the absence of two Danish forwards currently busy in the NHL playoffs played a role in that.
Lars Eller has five goals and seven assists in 15 playoff games for the Washington Capitals, who lead their Eastern Conference final against the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1. Nikolaj Ehlers had a 60-point regular season with 29 goals and 31 assists for the Winnipeg Jets and has seven assists in the Western Conference final against the Vegas Golden Knights. That series is tied 1-1.
"That’s been a long way (for Danish hockey)," Nielsen said. "It’s been incredible and we’re proud of where we are today."
At this year’s worlds, Denmark enjoyed huge support from the roaring home fans mostly wearing red and white jerseys at their games in Herning. After the victories, the crowd and players sang the Danish national anthem together.
"The whole city backs us up here," said Nielsen, who is from Herning. "It’s been incredible."