COLOGNE – The fans of the big nations often complain about the ruthlessness of the tournament schedule. One game makes or breaks the tournament, they say. If you win it, it’s a good tournament, but if you lose, some heads are going to roll.
Denmark is in, if not the same, then at least a very similar boat, with the difference being that their big games come earlier in the tournament, it’s not the quarterfinal, like it is for the Finns or the Swedes, it’s one of the preliminary round games.
It can be the second game, like in 2008, when they beat Italy 6-2, or it can be the third game like in 2009 when they lost to Norway 5-4 in overtime.
This year, that big game is their third one against the host team, Germany on May 12. A win will open the gates of heaven again, and with the pressure of relegation off the Danes’ shoulders, they can focus on making things difficult for the others.
A team can ride a hot goalie far in the tournament, and Patrick Galbraith has the potential to turn it on, and make the game winning saves. Last year, Galbraith posted a respectable 91.62 save percentage, eighth best in the World Championship, ahead of, for example, Sweden’s Jonas Gustavsson. Unfortunately, in the key game against Norway, his save percentage was below 90.
This season Galbraith played in the Swedish second-tier league, starting 43 of Björklöven’s games, and posting a 91.2 save percentage. With the club having gone bankrupt, Galbraith may be poised to show potential employers what he really can do.
In their dress rehearsal against Sweden - and Gustavsson - Galbraith wasn’t at his best as the Swedes gave Denmark a lesson, while beating them 10-3. Galbraith shrug it off, although he would have liked "to take 3-4 goals back".
Yes, Jesper Damgaard is back. So are Mads Bødker and Mads Bech Christensen. And Daniel Nielsen. And Philip Larsen who signed with the Dallas Stars last year but got loaned to Frölunda Gothenburg in the Swedish Elitserien. In April, the 20-year-old defenceman got a taste of the NHL action when he played two games with the Stars.
That’s a good core to build the Danish defence around. Head coach Per Bäckman has chosen to go with size, and Damgaard, Bech Christensen, Stefan Lassen, and Jesper Duus are all over 187 centimetres, and weigh around 90 kilos. Maybe size got 42-year-old Duus on the team.
The Danes are also famous for the willingness to sacrifice their bodies in defence, so don’t be surprised to see one or more Danes go to the ice to block a shot. Denmark’s defence will be well organized, playing under assistant coach Tomas Jonsson’s watching eye. A former defenceman, Jonsson is one of the 23 Triple Gold Club members.
Peter Regin scored 13 goals for the Ottawa Senators in the NHL this season, Frans Nielsen scored 12 goals, and 38 points in 76 games with the Islanders, while Lars Eller collected 57 points in 70 AHL games with the Peoria Rivermen. Those three, together with veteran forwards Morten Green - who led the team in scoring at the World Championship in 2009 - and Kim Staal are key players for Denmark.
Regin was a question mark to play, but on the eve of the tournament, the Danish federation managed to iron out insurance issues, and he will be able to play in the opening game against Finland.
Last year, Denmark scored only five goals in the first three games. The year before that, when they avoided the relegation round, they scored nine in three games.
Swedish Per Bäckman took over the Danish national team prior to the 2009 World Championships, with two major goals set for him: take Denmark to the next level, and qualify to the 2010 Olympics. No Olympics, and a relegation round later, the Danish federation still likes his work, because they signed him to an extension that covers the World Championship in Slovakia in 2011.
The heat must be on Bäckman, though. Famous for being a tough coach, he’ll squeeze everything out of his star players.
Team Denmark is about as strong as it can be. Veteran forward Kim Staal called it “one of the best Danish teams ever”. According to Staal, the players believe they can beat any team in the tournament.
They’ll probably only have to beat one in the preliminary round, and it may be the worst possible one: Germany, with 18,000 supporters cheering them on in Cologne’s Lanxess Arena. Or, maybe that’s good for Denmark. The home-ice curse isn’t limited to the host team not winning gold.
Denmark is good enough to advance to the qualification round.