The last time the upper echelons of the hockey world had heard of Denmark was in 1949 when Canada slaughtered them by a still record score of 47-0.
And now they were back!? OMG. This is bad.
But in their first game, they beat the United States, 5-2, and later in the tournament they managed a tie with Canada, 2-2. Not 47-0. 2-2.
Check that. It was Canada that came from 2-1 behind to tie Denmark! Jay Bouwmeester tied the game late in the second period, and try as they might Canada couldn’t get the winner in the third.
In the end, the Danes finished 11thout of 16 teams. Not exactly medal contenders, but not chopped liver either.
Prior to 2003 there had never been a Danish-trained player make it to the NHL (Poul Popiel was raised in Canada from the time he was a child). Since then, there have been 12 Danes make it, and many are top stars. Frederik Andersen in the Leafs’ top goalie, and the only Danish goalie in NHL history. The names Eller and Boedker, Ehlers and Jensen are all familiar now to North Americans.
This marks the 17thstraight year the Danes have played in the top level. There have been a few close calls—they had to play in the relegation round in 2005, 2006, 2009—but there have also been some highlights—playing in the quarter-finals in 2010 and 2016.
Tuesday’s 9-0 win over Great Britain was a record-setting one for the Danes. Never before have they scored more than six goals in 113 WM games since 1949. It was not a good game to watch, but it was both a reward for the Danish program and a revelation for the British.
Once the 2019 WM schedule came out, the GB staff would surely have circled this game as one they hoped to earn a point or two. It wasn’t close. And that’s because no matter how you slice it, there is a huge difference between Division I-A and the top level (Italy, the other promoted team from last year, is experiencing the same discomfort on the other side).
Coach Jim Paek of Korea said as much at last year’s World Championship. He took his team first to the Olympics (where they qualified as host nation) and then to the Worlds (where they arrived, like Britain and Italy, through promotion), but the Korean team was completely outclassed. Paek admitted that although he expected it to be tough, he had no idea it would be as one-sided a fight as it was.
All this is to say that Tuesday’s score was a process. In 2003, the Danes had a 19-year-old Frans Nielsen on the team. Four years later, he became the first Dane to make the NHL. Ever.
In 2019, the Brits have 19-year-old Liam Kirk on the team. He was drafted 189thoverall by Arizona in 2018 and is on track to at least get a try in the NHL. It takes time. Denmark has clearly established itself as a top-16 team, as a team that is much, much better than Division I-A calibre.
Great Britain isn’t there yet, but to make it back up after a quarter of a century is also amazing. If their program continues to develop, they will have a chance to make more of an impact at the top WM in the coming years.
Yes, it was a lop-sided loss, but it validated Denmark’s worth and it gave Great Britain something to think about.