COLOGNE – You can excuse the Danish players for being a little giddy these days. If all this is a dream, they never want to wake up. Four games into the 2010 World Championship, the team’s record is 3-1-0, and instead of worrying about next year’s participation, they are now the buzz team of the tournament, fielding questions about the team’s medal chances.
Forward Morten Madsen leans on his stick, and chews the thumb of his red hockey glove, trying to hide his grin, or at least keep it moderate, as he re-plays Denmark’s game against Slovakia, in which the red-hot red-and-whites scored six goals in the first period, a record for most goals in one period by a team in a World Championship top division. (Canada beat the record a half hour later when they put seven in Norway’s net.)
“Yes, 6-0 is a big lead, but sometimes it’s not enough,” Madsen says, smiling.
The Danes never had to worry in that game, even if Slovakia did get a little back into the game. They had it under control, and what ever chances the Slovaks created, goaltender Patrick Galbraith took care of. Galbraith didn’t start in the first game of the tournament, having been pulled in the team’s last exhibition game, a 10-3 loss to Sweden.
“He was our best player,” says Madsen. “He was really good. He saved us a couple of times, it was a good one for him, too.”
Galbraith was the starter in the next three games and has now a 95.2 save percentage and 1.33 goals against average, both fourth best in the tournament.
“All the credit goes to the defence and how we play in the neutral zone. We don’t go out there and just sit back and wait for the other team to make a move. Well, sometimes we do, but we come to play hockey with the other, we don’t just hope to get a few fast breaks,” Galbraith says.
The team's defence will be put to a much tougher test on Sunday when they take on Russia, and Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Pavel Datsyuk, and, playing in their first game in the tournament, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar.
Denmark, known for its soccer team - “a good soccer team,” Madsen points out - now has the players to play a more proactive style of hockey. Frans Nielsen has two goals, Lars Eller three points, and Peter Regin, already touted as one of the best players in the tournament, 2 goals and six points in four games.
“I’m so excited to be here, we knew before the tournament that if we get all the guys from the NHL to come home, we’d have a good team. I really wanted to come here and finish my season on a high note,” says Regin, who missed the exhibition games due to insurance issues.
Coach Per Bäckman took over the Danish national team in 2008. His first World Championship as the head coach was a disappointment as Denmark ended up in the regulation round. The team also missed the Vancouver Olympics.
The 59-year-old Swede who’s won three Swedish titles with Frölunda Gothenburg and AIK Stockholm in his career, and took MODO Örnsköldsvik to two Elitserien finals has a reputation of being a tough one.
“He’s kind of an old school coach, but the most important thing is that he’s not afraid to win. The key is that you have to have the courage to win, and not just try to avoid losing. We have to believe and he’s put that in our heads,” says Regin.
It’s not all talk, adds Madsen.
“He’s old school and new school. He’s got some old stuff going on, but he’s also kept up with the development of the game,” he adds.
Bäckman himself says that Denmark wins because they’re not playing modern hockey. He may be joking. It’s hard to tell.
Either way, the Danes are having fun.
“Before the tournament, we said that we wanted to first get to the qualification round, then ty to make the quarterfinals. That’s where we’re now,” says Regin.
“It’s hard to say how we’ll do. We can go far,” adds Galbraith.