ZURICH-KLOTEN – Denmark might not have been able to generate much against the Czech Republic but there’s no mistaking that their team has changed since 2003. Mikkel Bødker is the highest drafted Danish player in history. Selected eighth overall by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008, Bødker joins Steve Stamkos and Luke Schenn as first year players who also made their NHL teams out of camp and now representing their national team at this World Championship. IIHF.com’s John Sanful spoke with the talented Team Denmark forward.
What are your impressions of the game against the Czech Republic?
I think we really did a good job playing five on five. It’s hard when they have those skill players like Hemsky and Jagr, who can really set up the power play. I think we did an outstanding job at even strength and we kept them on the outside and worked hard. If we can stay out of the box and keep skating we can play our system and then have two really good games the rest of this round.
Tell us about your year. Being drafted and then playing right away in the NHL must be something?
It was unbelievable. I’ve learned so much all year and I keep learning every day. It is a special feeling when you come in and you’re around players who’ve been in the NHL for a long time. Making the team out of camp meant a lot to me. Wayne (Gretzky) told me that I had a shot at making the team and with that in my mind I think it just made me go out there and work as hard as I could. Shane Doan and others in the organization helped me all year. I couldn’t thank them enough for all their help.
Why do you wear number 89, it is because of your birth year?
I used to wear number 8 but when I got to junior hockey there was a teammate who had it already so my dad told me to pick 89. It looks kind of cool and it works.
When Denmark beat Team USA in the 2003 World Championships were you watching the game?
I was watching the game and was so excited by the win. That’s why being on this team means so much because there are so many guys in this room that were on that team. Everybody back home was really excited because it was really big. I also remember that same year we tied Canada 2-2. Obviously that was a big year for Danish hockey and hopefully we can have a year like that this year.
How old were you when you saw that game in 2003?
I was thirteen.
What has being in the top division of the World Championships meant for Danish hockey?
You learn a lot from looking at the older guys on the team. I got a chance to go over to Canada and play which helped me develop a lot. The coaches back home in Denmark are doing a great job developing talent and I think you see that with the national team and how we compete on a higher level that ever before.
Do you sometimes feel pressure to have to be a role model for youngsters in Denmark that might want to follow in your footsteps and play hockey?
Obviously you want to do well every time you go out on the ice and lead the way. There is some pressure but nothing I think I can’t handle. I got some nice guys in the room who have helped me along the way and I really believe that it is one of many steps.
What’s it like having Wayne Gretzky as your coach?
It’s so amazing. I never dreamt I’d even meet him. He’s an unbelievable guy and a good coach and a great hockey mind. He’s the best teacher in hockey and I learn from him every day. When he talks you just listen and learn. Playing for him is something I would not trade away for anything.