Date: May 16, 2018

Danish hockey on the rise despite elimination at home worlds

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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.”

End of an era for France

By Andy Potts – IIHF.com

It’s been a long journey. In 1975, when Dave Henderson first arrived in Amiens and started playing for the local Gothiques, the club history recalls ‘a little Canadian who barely spoke a word of French’. In 2018, after taking charge of the national team for the 346th time, Henderson retired from his position of head coach.

In the 14 years that Henderson and his assistant Pierre Pousse have led Les Bleus, the country has made enormous progress. They masterminded a return to the top division for the 2008 World Championship and the country has stayed there ever since. Eleven consecutive seasons of top-flight action have brought memorable victories against some of the biggest teams in the game. In tandem, the French Ice Hockey Federation has boosted the country’s sporting infrastructure. At all levels of the game, French national teams are making progress, and last year saw Paris co-host the World Championship as the main event returned to France for the first time in the modern era.

“It’s been a fun ride, most of it,” Henderson acknowledged after running down the final curtain on his time in charge of the team.

Among the many highlights, Pousse unhesitatingly picks out the 2008 World Championship in Quebec City. “We had three years in the B pool, including that difficult World Championship [Division I] in Amiens; we went to China, to the end of the world, where there was only one journalist, and won promotion,” he said. “Then we went to Quebec and it was such an eye-opener. Very few of the players had experienced anything like it, and we certainly hadn’t.”

Hockey in France was very different back then. Most of the national team was drawn from the domestic league, whereas the majority of players in Copenhagen are playing abroad, gaining greater experience. The local competition is also much improved.

“French hockey has come from being like kitchen hockey, I guess you’d call it, to something much more professional. We have more preparation, more games, more intensity and more organisation. It’s going in the right direction and it will keep going that way under the direction of our Federation.”

Dave Henderson

French national team head coach

Pousse, who played under Henderson in Amiens before working with him as a coach with the French Juniors and then the national team, is expected to keep working on the French hockey program. For Henderson, there’s a slight pause – but no plans to stop working altogether.

“I’ll find something to do,” he said. “I’d drive my wife nuts if I didn’t do something.

“I’m in touch with the Federation and I’ll just play it by ear for now. In the next couple of months everything will be decided.”

For all the emotion of the final game – and a guard of honour as the French and Swiss teams applauded Henderson and Pousse off the ice – the 66-year-old is confident that this is the right step for the team.

“I think it was a global decision,” he said. “After 14 years I’d gone past retirement age and I think the team needs a change. The decision was made and I think it’s going to be a good decision.”

For Henderson and Pousse, who have worked in tandem since the 1990s, it’s going to be a big change. And for their players, the arrival of the legendary Philippe Bozon, the first French-trained player to reach the NHL, is something new.

“Personally, I was [Henderson’s] player for nine years, and now it’s the end,” said Damien Fleury, who wore the ‘C’ as Henderson took charge of his final game. “It’s tough, but it’s hockey. I just wish them the best, and thanks for everything they did for us.

“As for Bozon, I don’t know. I know him, but I’ve never had him as a coach. I know it’s going to be tough. I know we’re going to work hard. Maybe this is what we’ll need to go to the quarter-final.”