BRATISLAVA – Last year, Denmark took a giant leap forward, by beating Finland and the US in the preliminary round, and then completely stunning Slovakia with a 6-0 win. That was enough to take it to the quarter-finals for the first time. That is a feat that will be hard to repeat with no Peter Regin, Lars Eller and Frans Nielsen on the team.
Regin led the team in scoring with seven points in seven games, followed by Eller and Nielsen, both with five points in seven games. Denmark had the third-best power play in the tournament, thanks to the creativity of the three young forwards.
This year, Denmark will have to rely even more on the power of the team, and hope that their young goaltenders Patrick Galbraith, 25, and Fredrik Andersen, 21, are ready to be miracle workers in Slovakia, especially with veteran defenceman Jesper Damgaard having to retire, due to post-concussion syndrome.
Denmark’s key game will be the one against Latvia. A win there, and they can breathe a little easier.
Patrick Galbraith finished his second season in Hockeyallsvenskan, Sweden’s second-tier league, now with Leksand, a perennial favorite to win promotion to the Elitserien. His save percentage was 91.76 in 43 games, with a GAA of 2.27. Both were fourth best in the league. Last year, Galbraith played five World Championship games with a ninth best save percentage in the tournament.
However, in the first game against Finland, it was Fredrik Andersen who stopped the Finns, making 36 saves en route to 4-1 win. The second-generation goaltender – just like Galbraith – was Carolina’s seventh round pick last summer, and has signed with Frölunda in the Swedish Elitserien next season. This season, he was elected Denmarks Player of the Year as his Frerikshavn White Hawks finished second in the Danish league.
Denmark is missing a few key pieces in its defence as well. Last year, Philip Larsen averaged over 22 minutes a game, and Damgaard collected four points from the point. This time around, the Danes bring a young defence corps to the tournament, as only Daniel Nielsen has turned 30. Jesper Jensen, 19, captained the Danish junior team that won their division I tournament this year and earned promotion to the World Junior Championship in 2012. He was also elected Best Defenceman of the tournament.
His Rögle teammate, Mads Bødker, will be playing in his fifth straight World Championship, and he’s only 23.
Mikkel Bødker made his World Championship debut in 2009, but missed last year’s tournament. In hindsight, it would have been interesting to see how much more punch the Danish offense would have packed with him in the lineup. As it is now, Bødker is the go-to guy. He began his season in the AHL, racked up 34 points in 35 games and spent the latter half of the season with the Phoenix Coyotes in the NHL. The 21-year-old forward is a great skater, and can create goal chances out of thin air.
The players who’re not returning for season scored nine of Denmark’s 17 goals last season. Bødker will help, but he can’t do it on his own. Morten Green, 30, scored eight points in six games in 2009, and Kim Staal, 33, scored four goals in six games in 2008. Denmark needs a showing like that from them in 2011. Green is also the captain of the team.
Swedish Per Bäckman is famous for his stern look, and his no-nonsense approach to everything. He seems to enjoy the life of a national team head coach. Last year, he got his team to stick to the plan, work as a team, and work hard for each other. Getting the players to by into the system is a lot easier when the results go their way.
Bäckman’s assistant is, once again, Toman Jonsson, a Swedish Triple Gold Club member, who also coached in the Danish league this season.
It’s a thin line between heaven and hell at the World Championships. In 2009, Denmark got beat by Norway in the preliminary round and ended up in the relegation round, which it then cruised through undefeated. Last year, they played in the quarterfinal. That’s the range of possibilities for Denmark this year as well, but they should be able to avoid the relegation round.