Alas, the upcoming Olympics will be played inside another bubble so family, friends, and fans will be forced to watch the showcase away from the arenas. Instead of getting set to hop aboard a plane for China, Russell is making sure to have a constant tissue supply at her home.
“I’m extremely honoured. I was so happy,” says Russell, who recently learned that daughter Emma and son Patrick would be playing for Denmark’s women’s and men’s hockey teams at the Olympics. “To be honest, I used a lot of Kleenex boxes have been used. I get emotional and I was just so happy for them. I know how much it means to them, how much they have put into it. I was just absolutely stoked.”
Denmark offers no less than four brother-sister combos in Beijing. Beside the Russells there are also Josefine and Julian Jakobsen, Josephine and Matthias Asperup, and Mathias and Mia Bau Hansen.
The tears are no doubt going to continue when she watches the two teams take to the ice in Beijing. For the first time, Denmark will send ice hockey teams to the world’s greatest sports stage – and they even qualified twice, in August with the men’s and in November with the women’s team.
Russell is not your average hockey mom. For over 10 years, she was team manager of the Danish women’s team and travelled with the squad to the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Calgary (one of many tours of duty Russell took with the team). She recently left the manager post as she needed to focus on her full-time career. Russell is also a current board member of the Danish Ice Hockey Union.
She has seen first-hand the growth of the game in Denmark, a country of less than six million people, home to just over 25 indoor rinks, and a nation where football and handball reign supreme.
“Many times, when I went to training or a match, the kids came with me or Christine and watched the game,” says Bonke from Malaysia. “Often, they came to the locker room as well. Here is where they got the taste. In the basement, in our house, we created a small hockey rink with a goal. Patrick loved to play down there.”
Yes, it was Patrick, the oldest of the two kids, who was on skates first. He says it was around the age of 2, but mom corrects him, stating he was one year, 9 months old when he was first on the ice.
Emma, three years younger than her brother, says she had no choice but the play hockey.
“I was kind of dragged into it,” says Emma, laughing. “My brother Patrick, he played, so I had to be there for every single practice and game that he played because my mom was a single parent at that time. So I was kind of forced into it. I kind of fell in love with it. I saw the friendships that my brother had and the teammates around him and what he learned. I figured I would try it out so I did that.”
Emma, now 26, lives in Copenhagen and does what many female hockey players do. She studies (Emma is taking business and marketing courses), she works and she trains on and off the ice to reach the highest levels in the game she loves. Incredibly, Emma first made the Danish national team at the age of 14. She has been preparing for this moment for much of her life and can’t wait to hit the ice in Beijing.
“Our expectation is to do our absolute best and hopefully go to the quarter-finals,” says Emma. “But do our best … it’s our first time to the Olympics and to be there is a super cool and we want to play some really good hockey.”
Patrick, meanwhile, is enjoying a fine season with Linkoping HC of the Swedish Hockey League. He was preparing to play in his final two games with the club this week before meeting his Danish Olympic teammates in Denmark on Jan. 30 and leaving for China the following day. Denmark will be in Group B with Czechia, ROC and Switzerland.
Patrick’s return to Sweden this season followed five professional seasons in the American Hockey League and National Hockey League. Many fans in North America will be following his Olympic journey after watching him with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and AHL’s Bakersfield Condors.
Patrick is excited to see what the Danes can do at the Olympics and knows that having the men and women compete in China will do wonders for youth hockey in his home country.
“We also had the world championship on the men’s side in Denmark in 2018. You can really see tremendous growth,” says Patrick. “It’s getting more and more attention in the media and especially now that we qualified two teams for the Olympics. It’s a huge step. Hopefully, you’re going to see a lot of kids get involved. Football is obviously the main sport in Denmark and every kid plays football like they play hockey in Canada. Hopefully this will get a lot more kids involved in hockey during the winter when it’s harder to play soccer. It means a lot.”
“We’re in the same bubble and, once you’re in the bubble, you can kind of move around freely,” says Patrick. “That will be super cool. I’m so proud of Emma and the women’s team. I’ve said it before but one thing is to earn a living from playing hockey, then it’s really easy. We’re just playing a sport. Another one is to play and train, have a full-time job next to hockey and just still stay motivated because hockey is fun. I’m really proud of her and can’t wait to get this experience with her.”
The Danish women’s team will play its first game on 4 February against China and the men will be facing off against the Czechs on 9 February. That gives mom Christine a few days to make sure she has ample supply of tissue.
“I’ll be sitting at home rooting for them,” says Christine. “They know that I can shout loud, I can be very loud. They know that I’ll be there in spirit so they can feel me. And I’ll have my Kleenex box next to me and be ready there.”