QUEBEC CITY – The quality of hockey was lower than the Czech Republic-Russia battle, but the live-or-die factor in the Sunday evening game at the Colisée was higher as Denmark dispatched Italy to the Relegation Round with a 6-2 win.
The result has implications beyond the 2008 IIHF World Championship. The IIHF World Ranking after this year’s Worlds will determine qualification for the 12-team 2010 Olympics. With the top nine qualifying directly to Vancouver and three more qualifying via tournaments to be played in late 2008 and early 2009, Denmark (currently #12 to Italy’s #13) could end up with home ice advantage for those qualification tournaments.
Special teams were the difference here, as Denmark capitalized three times with the power play.
Morten Green set the standard for Denmark with a goal and three assists, and Kim Staal shone with a goal and two helpers.
“It was an important win,” said Staal. “It was important to get the first goal. But don’t think we didn’t have to work for the win. Italy worked hard and did their best.”
At 3:54, Green, a veteran Swedish leaguer, opened the scoring for Denmark. Positioned between the hash marks, he took a lovely centering feed from Staal, located by the goal line, and he zinged it high over Italian goalie Thomas Tragust.
The Danes took a 2-0 lead on the power play at 8:11 when Lars Eller’s shot from the right side was tipped neatly home by Staal, the second assist going to Green.
With a two-man advantage midway through the period, Jannik Hansen tipped in Green’s center point drive, and Italian head coach Michel Goulet decided he’d seen enough, replacing Tragust with veteran Guenther Hell at 11:26.
Unfortunately, Goulet’s move didn’t spark a miraculous comeback. (No shades of Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff getting yanked in favor of Curtis Joseph after the 3-0 San Jose goal in Game Three of the Western Conference quarter-final.)
Three and a half minutes into the second period, Daniel Nielsen made it 4-0, getting his stick on yet another Green drive, on yet another power play.
“It was a really good game for me personally, but also for the team,” said Green. “Our power plays clicked and we had great goaltending.”
The Italians cut the deficit to 4-1 when Jason Cirone sent a wrister through Peter Hirsch’s five-hole from the right faceoff circle with 2:12 left in the middle frame.
It was 4-2 at 7:09 of the third when Nicola Fontanive scooped a rebound past Hirsch, and that goal ramped up Italy’s go-for-it factor. Jonathan Pittis and Giulio Scandella narrowly missed on a 2-on-1 rush shortly afterwards.
But when the Italians failed to convert on a mid-third period power play, Morten Dahlmann spotted Jesper Damgaard coming out of the penalty box and hit him with a breakaway pass, which the Danish captain just got past Hell’s glove. Game over.
Kaspar Degn rounded out the scoring for Denmark with 3:57 left, circling the net and lifting a high shot over Hell.
Denmark outshot Italy 32-28.
The Danes complete their Preliminary Round slate versus Russia on Tuesday, while the Italians do likewise against the Czech Republic.
“In the next group we’ll probably face Belarus and Sweden,” said Green. “They’ve been ahead of us for five or six years, so it would be nice to change that.”
“We finished 10th last year, and that was great,” said Mads Bodker. “We hope to improve on that.”
Denmark also won its last two World Championship clashes with Italy in 2006 and 2007, 5-0 and 5-2 respectively.
Drum-beating, singing Danish fans (nicknamed the “Roligans”) set up shop behind Hirsch’s net, accompanied by the tournament polar bear mascot. In the final minutes of the game, they began trooping caterpillar-style around the staircases in the standing, singing jubilantly and ringing bells.
Announced attendance was 6,838.