In a bid to raise the competitive edge of the Danish women's game, Hvidovre IK competes on three fronts across Europe this season.
1,756 kilometres separates Hungary's capital Budapest from Linkoping in Sweden. They mark the geographical opposite ends for Hvidovre's opponents during a season where kilometres on the road and miles in the air are clocked up with the future prosperity of Danish hockey in focus.
Having first re-joined Sweden's second tier, DamEttan, the club from the greater Copenhagen area then decided to considerably widen their scope. A two-year deal was struck with the Elite Women's Hockey League (EWHL) ahead of this season, adding quality opposition and Central European destinations to their travel itinerary.
“This season is very different to previous ones as we spend a lot more time on hockey. There is more training, games and travelling than we have been used to in the past and it demands a completely different attitude,” said Malene Frandsen, who is patrolling the blueline for both Hvidovre and the Danish national team.
Battling it out with teams from Sweden one weekend and then swiftly moving on to matches against opponents from Austria, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan and Slovakia has become the staple diet for the Danes this season as their credentials are constantly put to the test.
“These matches are on a completely different level to what we are used to in the Danish league,” said Frandsen, part of a Hvidovre team that has lifted the domestic championship six times in seven seasons. “Our opponents in Europe are stronger so the matches are far harder, tougher and tighter which requires us to be 100 per cent prepared ahead of each game,” she said of her team that underwent strenuous off-ice training in order to meet the physical demands of a challenging season.
For 22-year-old Frandsen, who picked up the game 18 years ago, travelling abroad to up their game has become a necessity after the Danish hockey landscape shifted in recent times on Zealand, Denmark's most populated island where also its capital is located.
“I've been at Hvidovre since the age of eleven and I've started playing for the boys U12 team and our women's second team. Back then we had both a women's first and second team in Hvidovre and there were also more teams in both the eastern and western parts of Denmark. These days there are only two women's teams on Zealand,” said Frandsen, who made her national team debut at the age of 15 and was part of the Hvidovre team that broke new ground to first compete in the Swedish second tier for one season in 2015/16.
When the opportunity arose to join the EWHL and a contingent of clubs from nations eager to rise in the world of women's hockey, Denmark's finest was keen not to miss out. Their venture was made possible thanks to a combination of sponsors and relentless enthusiasm from a close-knit roster.
“Despite the challenges we seem to face on our trips, we are enjoying every second of being taken seriously and trying to become better hockey players,” said Frandsen, also a full-time student at the University of Copenhagen who hopes that Denmark playing host to the men's IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in May can help shine a light also on the women's game.
“Ranging from ice times for practices and matches, sponsors and to our national teams, we need to make it possible for women’s hockey players to be able to combine training, work or education to increase the number of teams,” said Frandsen of the challenges facing the overall prosperity of the Danish game.
Her sentiments are shared by Hvidovre's head coach Jonathan Salman. Now in the second season in charge, he hopes the club's forays across the continent would lead to Danish clubs following in their footsteps. “We have started this venture with the hope of more clubs joining in to try and raise the level in Danish hockey. There is a long list of things that can be improved, but first and foremost we need to create a culture of training that needs to be applied and then further developed,” he said
Having finished the season in second place in the southern section of Sweden's DamEttan while narrowly missed out on a place in the play-offs in the EWHL, Hvidovre is now getting ready to defend their Danish title against close rivals Herlev. The first game will be played today in Herlev, the second game is on Tuesday and if a third game is needed, it will follow on Thursday.
With Denmark's women also competing at the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A in Vaujany, France, between 8-14 April, they appear to be well equipped to improve on last year's fourth spot.
“On a personal level the matches we have played so far this season has put me on the level I should be at, so when we are going to the World Championship with the national team, I will already have the speed in my skating and game,” said Frandsen.