BUDAPEST – Netherlands coach Tommie Hartogs can count on many players with Division I experience, but there are also new players around.
Three U20 players are participating in their first or second World Championship Division I with the big guys, notably forwards Mickey Bastings, Levi Houkes and Lars von Sloun, who all play in the Netherlands’ top-league, the Eredivisie.
Another rookie, at age 24, is the 190cm defenceman Michael Brandasu, who went an unusual way in Dutch hockey. While most players were raised in the Netherlands, with the exception of some Dutch-Canadians, Brandasu calls Norway his home.
“I was born in Holland and my parents moved to Norway when I was 10 because of work. I have played in Norway since except for two years in Denmark,” said Brandasu, who started playing hockey with the Dordrecht Lions when he was five.
While his ties to the Netherlands remained with one U18 and two U20 IIHF events, he started his senior career in 2005 in Norway’s second-tier league with Viking Stavanger and the Stavanger Oilers B-team.
After two years in Denmark’s second division for Amager Ishockey, Brandasu returned to Stavanger in 2009 where he had his debut in the top league winning his first Norwegian championship one year ago. The 2010-2011 season marked his first complete season with Norway's top team that ended with the silver medals in the playoffs this time.
„I played in the junior national teams, then we kind of lost contact, but when I won the Norwegian championship last year they contacted me,” Brandasu said. Last November he played his first exhibition games for the men’s national team at a tournament in Poland.
Playing his first World Championship Division I with the men’s team is something special for Brandasu, coming from Scandinavian hockey back into the environment of his native country with the stamp of Canadian hockey.
“It’s great to be here. It’s a bunch of good guys and it’s good to get to know them. I think it’s a talented group, it’s just a matter of time until we get better and better,” the 24-year-old says. “They play more the North American style while we play more the Scandinavian style, so it’s hard to get used, but I try my best.”
He must have done something right as coach Hartogs put him on the first line forming a back pair with Mike Dalhuisen, another of the towering defencemen the team provides. Dalhuisen is a younger guy, too. He joined the team from his second season in NCAA hockey with Quinnipiac University.
“They also have some very decent guys in the Dutch league as I can see here, although the game here in the World Championship Division I might be at a higher than they’re used to back home,” Brandasu says, “but I think they keep up pretty well. We’re doing a pretty good job and I’m proud of being with the team.”
The Netherlands will play their last game of the event today against Korea. A victory would remove them from the relegation threat and to the bronze medals after a 2-1 record with an expected win against newly-promoted Spain, and expected defeats against Hungary and Italy.
“Our goal is to stay in Division I with the best place possible,” he says and since Japan isn’t here to defend the bronze medals due to force majeure after the natural disaster, it might well be the Dutch who win their first Division I medal since 2005.
Brandasu will then return to Norway, but he will always be happy to receive a call to represent his native country.
“I hope to stay in Norway and develop my game there and come back with the Netherlands national team,” he said, outlining his career plans for the future.