When Mark Pederson signed with Esbjerg Energy in 2013, the club had made it past the quarter-finals just once in the previous ten years. His first year behind the bench yielded another quarterfinal loss, but the last four years have produced first a silver and then two consecutive Danish titles.
Esbjerg Energy beat the Gentofte Stars 4-3 in Game 5 of the final, having lost a 3-1 lead in the closing minutes of the third period. Energy could regroup and then Jared Knight scored the game winner five minutes into the second overtime period.
“We let them back into the game, and we shouldn’t have, but that’s part of the game. In overtime, both teams waited for their golden chance, and fortunately, we got ours,” Anders Krogsgaard, an Energy defenseman, told JydskeVestkusten.
Esbjerg had previously won five Danish titles, in 1969, 1988, 1993, 1996, 2004, and 2016.
This year, Pederson, a native of western Saskatchewan, coached his young and mostly Danish Energy fourth in the regular season. The team’s average age was under 24 years, and it boasted with 19 Danish players on its roster, 13 of them Esbjerg natives. The Stars, in turn, had missed the playoffs two years in a row, having been promoted to the top division in 2014. They, too, had thirteen players trained in the local Copenhagen metropolitan area clubs and it was the first Zealand club to make it to the final since 2002.
Pederson told JydskeVestkusten that he always believed in his team despite problems early in the season.
“I really did believe in the team because I saw in the Champions Hockey League games that we had the potential. We just needed to be able to use it,” he said.
He called this year’s team the most talented team he’s ever coached.
“I don’t want to compare it to last year’s team because it’s a different team and a different style, but both teams went through a process and grew [into champions] during the season,” he said.
Like so often, adversity pulled the team together. For Energy, that happened over the World Juniors when the team both suffered from injuries and had players on the Danish WJC team.
“When they returned from the World Juniors, they could sense that something had changed in the dressing room, there was a different atmosphere, as if the players had decided that our problems weren’t going to stop us,” Pederson told JydskeVestkusten.
“I’m sure it helped us this season that we were reignign champions. That gave us confidence and the players who won the title last season kept reminding us that we could do it again,” Knight said.
While the core of Energy may have consisted of young Danes, their top offensive talent came from North America. In the regular season, the team’s top five scoring leaders included four Canadians and an American, with Brock Nixon leading the way with 20 goals and 47 points in 45 games. He also won the post-season scoring title with 19 points in 17 games.
And then there was Jared Knight, who tapped in Kodie Curran’s pass from the doorstep at 5:01 into the second overtime period, sending the team and its fans into a frenzy.
“It was a wonderful pass, all I had to do was tap it in. This is the coolest feeling. Honestly, it’s a bit of a blur to me, I just remember that I hugged Ryan Martindale and then we were all in one big pile. It was crazy, an incredible experience,” Knight said.
“We never gave up, we believed in ourselves, and this season has made us brothers,” he concluded.