POPRAD – Denmark continues to battle for a spot in the Olympics. On Friday, they beat Norway 2-1 in a penalty shootout.
Another win over Japan on Sunday would take the Danes to the Sochi Olympics. That would be a sensation.
Having said that, Denmark, ranked 19th in the world, were also the lowest ranked team in their pre-qualification tournament in Valmiera, Latvia. They won the tournament and earned a ticket to Poprad where they have now beaten Slovakia (2-1), ranked 7th, and Norway (10th), in the last two days.
“We knew we’d have to work hard, and that we’d spend a lot of time in our own end, and that’s what happened. We played against Norway in 2011 and lost, but now we took an important win,” said Denmark’s coach Denis Larsen.
“I think we can see here that the game has improved. Anybody can beat anybody here. It was a great hockey game, ” said Norway’s coach Sten Gunnar Jorgensen.
Jorgensen had given the nod to Jorid Dagfinrud in goal while Denmark still rode their hot hand. Kamilla Lund Nielsen was excellent in the first game against Slovakia.
“They had fast forwards, we knew that, and we respected them, we knew that they have a lot of good players. This is fantastic,” said Lund Nielsen.
“We’re the underdog in every game here,” Denmark’s coach Denis Larsen said after the team’s 2-1 win over Slovakia, “we’ll be ranked lowest for the entire tournament.”
And so Denmark was the underdog in their game against Norway, ranked 10th, as well. And the Danes knew exactly what their game plan would have to be. They’d focus on solid team defence and good goaltending, then hope to convert on their scoring chances. Especially since they had finished their first game just 18 hours earlier.
Norway, on the other hand, had lost their first game and needed desperately a win to keep their Sochi dreams alive. That desperation showed in their game, in a good way, as the team played up-tempo hockey, and kept mistakes to a minimum.
With both teams executing their game plans perfectly, it wasn’t a surprise that the game turned out to be a low scoring one.
Norway was in the driver’s seat most of the game, outshooting Denmark 13-3 in the first period and 39-17 in regulation time. It was the solid play of Denmark’s goaltender Kamilla Lund Nielsen that kept the Norwegians off the scoreboard.
“Everything went my way today, it seemed,” she said.
The middle frame was just six minutes old when Norway’s captain Line Biarik sent a long pass from behind the net to the blueline, and Ingrid Morset wired a shot that went through a lot of traffic in front of Lund Nielsen’s net, and to the back of the net.
But in the third period, Denmark got their chance. There was a turnover on the Danish blueline, Josefine Jakobsen grabbed the puck and skated over the neutral zone, then found Emma Russell with a perfect pass. Russell took a step in, and fired a wrist shot that beat Dagfinrud and tied the game, with 15:19 remaining in the third period.
In the final minutes of the game, both teams went aggressively for the win. Both teams had breakaways, and Denmark even got the puck to the goal line, but not over it, and the game went into overtime which both teams started with three skaters after Norway’s Silje Holøs and Denmark’s Josefine Persson took holding minors in the last second of regulation time play.
Neither team managed to score on overtime, and the game was decided in a penalty shootout. Denmark’s Lund Nielsen made save son all three Danes, whereas Norway’s Dagfinrund got beat by Julie Gregersen who patiently waited until the goalie was on the ice and then lifted the puck upstairs.
After the game, the coaches were asked about the Norway-Denmark rivalry, and both men chuckled.
“We’re friends, we like to play against Denmark,” said Jorgensen.
“We like to play Norway,” added Larsen. “But many of the players are teammates in Sweden or the U.S., so maybe there will be some teasing when they get back home.”
“Now we’ll celebrate a little, then rest, and get ready for Sunday’s game,” said Lund Nielsen.
Norway is already out of the running, and will finish their tournament with a game against Slovakia on Sunday. Denmark plays for a spot in the Olympics in a game against Japan.