TORONTO – Frederik Andersen still remembers how it feels.
The excitement of being part of the first Danish team to reach the top level of the world junior championship. And the apprehension that came with facing hockey’s heavyweights during the 2008 tournament in the Czech Republic.
"We didn’t really have much business being there," he said Tuesday.
That is why there is still some mixed emotions about the experience for the Toronto Maple Leafs goalie. He was a key member of Denmark’s breakthrough generation – playing alongside fellow 1989-borns Lars Eller, Mikkel Boedker, Philip Larsen and Oliver Lauridsen – but they met a harsh reality after earning promotion to the top group.
The highlight, if you can call it that, was keeping things relatively close during a 4-1 loss to Canada. The low point was getting hammered 10-1 by neighbour Sweden, with Andersen being pulled after the seventh goal against.
"That was not much fun, obviously," he said.
The shots were 40-17. Denmark was clearly overmatched.
"I don’t remember too much now, but you try the best you can and then see how it ends up," said Andersen. "There’s not really much else to do. Like you do now, you play the best you can no matter what the score is and see where it leads you after the game."
Frederik Andersen manning the net for Denmark during a friendly against Latvia in 2009. (Roman Koksarov/AP)
He has empathy for the minnows who show up at a 10-team tournament where realistically only five, maybe six, countries have any chance of medalling.
When the event got underway in Montreal and Toronto on Monday, both Latvia and Denmark were beaten by 6-1 scores.
However, Andersen sees the gap narrowing overall. He doesn’t believe his countryman feel as inferior as he and his teammates once did. Back then, they looked across the ice at Jonathan Bernier playing goal for Canada and saw someone from "another planet."
"That’s what it felt like when we went there," said Andersen. "We were playing against Bernier and (Steve) Mason, and Bernier had already played NHL games. We were like: ‘Woah, this kid’s good.’ This guy has already played a bunch of NHL games and we were there playing under-20 in Denmark and not even in the best league. Not even playing pro in Denmark, some of us.
"But he came and they felt a lot better than they were."
Denmark went 0-7 at that world junior tournament and was outscored 38-15 in total. It was relegated and took a couple years to climb back up to the "A Group."
However, the country has recently reached new heights with another wave of players that include Nik Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand. That group advanced to the quarter-finals at the world juniors for two years running, losing 4-3 to Russia in Helsinki last January.
"I think that they have that confidence now that they know that they’re not that far behind," said Andersen. "We have a lot of players that are doing really well in the NHL. (When Ehlers) was probably coming into the tournament knowing guys like Frans Nielsen and Lars Eller, Boedker – they’d been playing so well up here and they were in the same shoes as him back then – that gives them confidence.
"Now they know if they can play maybe to their level and a little bit more sometimes they have a chance."
As the only Danish goalie ever to reach the NHL, he is also a source of belief for young hockey players back home.
The 27-year-old is off to a tremendous start in his first season with the Leafs, carrying a .923 save percentage into Wednesday’s game at Florida. He recently appeared in his 150th NHL game and is happy to be blazing a new trail for his countryman.
The Danish world junior team is playing out of the Montreal-based group so Andersen will keep tabs on their progress from afar. His father, Ernst, is there as the goalie coach.
"It’s cool for them that they have players to look up to," said Andersen. "Now, I guess with me there’s a goalie to look up to, too."