SANOK, Poland – Denmark were at their best when it mattered the most as the Scandinavians won the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division I Group A to earn promotion to the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal.
Overcoming earlier bouts of ill-discipline and lapses of concentration, Denmark deservedly clinched their top of the podium position during the fourth day of the round-robin tournament after Latvia were ousted 4-1. With fourth straight wins, Denmark can now look forward to a place at next year's top division with one round of games still to be played at the ongoing U20 Division I Group A in Sanok.
The four wins were enough because only Latvia and Belarus can match Denmark’s 12 points in the last round tomorrow but Denmark has beaten both in the head-to-head games.
With both Denmark and Latvia undefeated after three rounds, the Danes’ decisive defeat of Latvia can be looked back upon as a triumph when the teachings of head coach Olaf Eller started to fall into place. Perhaps most epitomised by his son, Mads Eller, who is also the younger brother of the Montreal Canadiens’ Lars Eller.
Mads Eller was the tournament's most penaltised player, but in that game he let his undoubted skills out on the ice instead. It was the Edmonton Oil Kings' prospect who set the Danes on course for promotion, breaking the deadlock against Latvia after 12:22 assisted by Oliver Bjorkstrand and Kristoffer Lauridsen in a commanding first period display where the Danes won the shots 14-3.
Continuing to dictate proceedings in the middle frame Denmark doubled the lead when Nikolaj Ehlers hit home the only goal of the period. A sloppy Danish minor penalty caused by too many players on the ice at the start of the third period briefly reignited hopes for a Latvian fightback, as a power play goal from Roberts Lipsbergs halved Denmark's lead at 4:22.
But instead of an ensuing Baltic onslaught for an equaliser, it was defenceman Sonny Hertzberg, who at 15:06 restored Denmark's two-goal cushion before Oliver Bjorkstrand added Denmark's fourth after Latvia had pulled Elvis Merzlikins from the net.
The young Danes, who had started the tournament staving off Austria (3-1) and Poland (4-2), got their first stern test in their third game, against a a smooth-skating Belarusian team who earlier in the tournament had beaten Slovenia (7-3) before restricting Austria to only six shots in a 4-1 second day win.
In a game of two halves, Denmark were to play their best hockey of the tournament against Belarus. Thanks to a solid defence, inspired goaltending from Georg Sørensen and clinical finishing, Denmark rushed into a 5-1 lead after 16:13 of the third period.
But then came the plethora of penalty calls which helped Belarus in their relentless push for goals. In the end Denmark prevailed 5-4, and much to their credit a much-improved disciplined performance in their game against Latvia gave Denmark high hopes for the future with this fast-developing exciting crop of youngsters and many core players who were born in 1995.
With the bulk of the players still eligible for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship in Toronto and Montreal, Denmark will now look for the next step in their development; to try and last longer in the top division than during their previous one-year spell in 2012.
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