PREROV, Czech Republic – Up five spots at the latest 2014 IIHF Women’s World Ranking, Denmark now aims for a second consecutive silver at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A that ends today.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times during Denmark's first two games in Prerov. 2-0 down in their opener against Austria, the third period turned into to a roller-coaster ride of an encounter where Denmark rallied back time and time again to tie the score at four apiece with 30 seconds left before completing the turnaround by winning the game in overtime.
Still seemingly up in the clouds, Norway then ruthlessly brought the Danish players back to earth the following day, scoring three unanswered goals during the first ten minutes of a game which Denmark in the end lost 5-1.
Surprise silver winners during last year's Division IA in Stavanger, Norway, Denmark has once again proved that they are a force to be reckoned with. With stalwarts such as first choice goaltender Kamilla Lund Nielsen and forward Henriette Østergaard missing on this year's roster, Denmark's young guns appear to have found a level of consistency in their performances clocking up two consecutive wins against Slovakia and France with a medal guaranteed going into the final round of games.
"Overall I think the progress we are making has been positive," said head coach Denis Larsen. "We are in the process of integrating a new generation and we have recently replaced 11 players with younger ones," continued Larsen, who during his six years at the helm has seen Denmark rise up the IIHF World Ranking. 22th in the world in 2010, they have since jumped up to 12th place at the latest World Ranking from February this year.
The rise of hockey has made great strides in a very short time in Denmark. Back in 1992, as the Danish women's program was at its infancy and featuring at the Women's World Championships played in Finland, Denmark men's team finished fourth in the standings in what was then known as the B-pool of the World Championships, three points behind the Netherlands and two ahead of Bulgaria. The development of the men's national team have since been nothing short of remarkable, where part of the blueprint behind their success could also be used for the continued progress of the women's program.
"First of all we require better financial resources if we want to develop," said Larsen. "But it is also vital that we get more players playing outside of Denmark, who can get a higher level of practise and matches which would in the end benefit the national team as we seek future success."
On the current Denmark roster playing in Prerov, four of the players are currently honing their skills abroad. Josefine Hansen, Josefine Jakobsen and Nicoline Jensen combine studies with playing hockey in North America, while blueliner Jeanette Langsager is in Karlskrona in Sweden. Add to that two of the stalwarts missing out on this year's Division 1A, forward Østergaard who is in North America while Lund Nielsen - voted best goalie at the Division 1A last year - is at Linköping in Sweden.
With neighbours Sweden having played a big part in the success for men's hockey with a vibrant exchange of players and coaches having crossed the Øresund channel over the years, Larsen hopes that especially Sweden should be utilised more in the development of the women's game.
"We have many players that would like to go on and play in Sweden where the terms and the level for hockey are better," he said. "But going abroad also requires the drive to progress as a player where you will need to relocate to a new environment and with many of the players still very young uprooting them could be our greatest challenge," said Larsen.
With four goals during Denmark's opener against Austria in this year's Division I Group A, 20-year-old forward Josefine Persson picked up the game at the age of six and has regularly made the short hop to Sweden during her formative years as a player. "I have regularly been over to play in Sweden with boys teams, so of course it would be of great interest to play for a team in Sweden once I have finished my studies," said the Hvidovre forward, who also thinks more could be done in Denmark to improve the state of the women's game. "With more qualified coaches and more interest put into women's hockey, more girls would be interested in picking up the game," she said.
While women's hockey in Sweden is moving it frontiers further south, Denmark, a short hop across the bridge, and Sweden can spur each other on for more success, while within the Danish borders there is a lot of room for further expansion out in the provinces in a sport that is deeply concentrated around the greater Copenhagen area. 17 players on Denmark's roster play in domestic clubs where 15 of those are in clubs (Herlev, Gentofte, Hvidovre) hailing from the capital. While an expansion further west is very much work in progress, it is not always an easy one according to Larsen.
"I want the girls to be able to develop and play in the same team as boys for as long as possible, but in Jutland not all coaches are agreeing with this," he said. "For the development of Danish women's hockey it means that not only Jutland will fall behind but also in the end mean that as a national team coach I will have fewer players to choose from," said Larsen.
With a crop of around 35 players to choose from for the national team, Denmark has already come a long way with limited resources. But Larsen is firm in his beliefs that with one step at a time, it won't be too long before his adepts play in the same division as Michelle Karvinen, the most famous player to come out of Denmark, but who opted to represent her father Heikki's country of birth, Finland.
"It is all down to finances, but I am convinced that we soon can be playing in the top division, have an under-18 national team and ahead of the next Olympic qualifiers we will definitely be one of the favourites," said Larsen about the high-flying ambitions of Denmark, who look to cap off the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship Division I Group A with a fine performance against gold-medallists Czech Republic with hopes of collecting their second consecutive silver medals at this level.