Assistant captain Nicoline Sondergaard Jensen could be forgiven for feeling downcast after her team dropped its first three Group B games to the Czech Republic (6-1), Japan (1-0), and Germany (3-1). But that’s not the way this heady 28-year-old forward rolls, even though she’s still seeking her first point in Calgary on a line with Michele Weis and Lilli Friis-Hansen.
That’s the voice of experience. Jensen made her Danish national team debut way back in 2009, alongside fellow current veterans like captain Josefine Jakobsen and forward Josephine Asperup. In a small Scandinavian country with just 702 registered female players and 27 rinks, it’s not surprising their roots together go back even further.
“Everyone knows each other really well,” said Jensen, who was named the Danish women’s player of the year in 2018. “I've been playing with the oldest people on the team for like 14 years. So it's always really fun to be together and play together. I feel like we have a great atmosphere in the locker room.”
It’s a non-cliquey room with plenty of smiles and a determination – per Elander’s repeated exhortations – to put a smile on Danish Queen Margrethe II’s face as well.
So even during the last two losses, Jensen could appreciate the value of dressing a goalie tandem born in the new millennium: starter Cassandra Repstock-Romme (19, born 2001) and backup Emma-Sofie Nordstrom (18, born 2002). Newcomers like these exude an unselfconscious joy. Denmark’s roster is among the tournament’s youngest, with an average age of 23.
“They’re all teaching me how to just go and get it, not being afraid, not thinking about what the outcome is going to be,” Jensen said. “Just being in the moment.”
The Tarnby native, who has played in Sweden for the last five seasons, had a moment of pure joy when she captured her first SDHL championship in 2021 with Lulea. After scoring nine goals and nine assists in 31 points in the regular season, Jensen added a goal and three assists in the run to the finals, where the northern Swedish club swept Brynas IF in three games.
“It's super-fun, seeing them play and playing against them,” Jensen said. “You smile at them, but you still go hard at each other in the corners. It's really great to have friendships here at the Worlds.”
The former two-time SDHL silver medalist with Linkoping will seek a new challenge next year after recently signing with HV71. Peter Eklund, GM of the Jonkoping-based franchise, said: “A very good centre with a great sense of play and calm on the ice. Nicoline is a player who always rises in the playoffs, and that is the routine we want for this team.”
If life had taken a different turn, perhaps Jensen would have wound up running around the football pitch at Viborg Stadium in northern Denmark, where the national women’s football team is headquartered. However, when she caught the hockey bug as a child, there was no turning back.
“I was actually a soccer player in the beginning because my family is from the soccer world,” Jensen explained. “My cousin started playing hockey and my aunt was asking me: ‘Don't you want to go down on the ice and try?’ I was like, ‘Ah, I'm not sure.’ She kept pushing me: ‘It's OK. You have equipment on. You can fall and it doesn't hurt!’ I was like, ‘OK, sure!’ And from that day, I just loved it.”
Asked what she’d tell another young girl who was curious about hockey but afraid of falling, Jensen replied: “I'd just say, ‘Get up again!’ It's an amazing sport. Hockey has brought me so many friendships and experiences.”
And now, she’s keen to try her luck on yet another continent: Asia. The Danes will use their experience from these Women’s Worlds at an Olympic qualification tournament in Fussen, Germany (11 to 14 November). Their opponents include Germany, Austria, and a third team yet to be determined. After Calgary, it’s all about the Beijing Winter Games in February 2022. No messing around.
“My goal is to make the Olympics,” Jensen said. “We are so close. I'm starting to be at an age where I’m thinking about how much longer I should play. The Olympics are one of my last goals.”
With the heart-and-soul attitude of players like Nicoline Sondergaard Jensen, Denmark has a shot at cracking its first Olympic women’s hockey tournament ever. For now, the focus is on scoring a win in their last Group B outing against Hungary on Wednesday.