In August, Denmark will host the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship (Herning and Frederikshavn, 26 August to 4 September), marking the first time this tournament has taken place in an Olympic year. In 2025, the Nordic nation of 5.8 million will co-host the men’s IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship with neighbouring Sweden (Herning and Stockholm).
These are exciting opportunities to grow the sport for the Danes, who have just 2,527 registered male players and 702 registered female players.
And the men’s and women’s national teams – who both made their Olympic debuts in February – took big, historic steps forward in Beijing. The men even came seventh under head coach Heinz Ehlers, topping their best-ever Worlds finish (eighth in 2010 and 2016).
“It’s still a small hockey country,” said assistant captain Frans Nielsen, the all-time Danish NHL scoring leader (473 points in 925 games), who retired after completing this season with Eisbaren Berlin. “We’ve only got 27 rinks. We need more young players to play. But for what we’ve got there, I think we’re doing a good job. We’re getting talent out of the few rinks we have. We’ve been in the top [Worlds] division now [continuously since 2003]. It’s been a great ride since my first year. We’ve just been going straight up.”
Indeed, when the Danes returned to the top Worlds division in 2003 in Finland after a 54-year absence, they shocked the hockey world. Acrobatic goalie Peter Hirsch made 52 saves in the opening 5-2 upset over the U.S. and had another 41 stops to earn a 2-2 tie with eventual champion Canada.
So in the group stage in Beijing, to see Denmark earn a 2-1 win over the Czechs in the opener – courtesy of the 37-year-old Nielsen’s penalty shot goal – and a 5-3 win over the Swiss was eye-opening but not shocking.
Goalie Sebastian Dahm celebrated the win over the Czechs by comparing it to events at the 2021 Worlds in Latvia: “We had almost the same team and we had a very tight game with them then – I think they beat us 2-1 in a shootout. Now we got the best of them. It is our game plan, though. We have to be honest with ourselves, really limit our mistakes, and make the most of our opportunities. And when you have the world’s best backhand there on the penalty shot, it’s amazing to see that lightning strike again!”
Not only did 31-year-old blueliner Markus Lauridsen score the Danish men’s first goal in Olympic history versus Czechia, but he also added the early third-period winner in a 3-2 qualification playoff victory over Latvia.
“I’m very proud of our team,” said Lauridsen. “We play for each other out there. We block shots and play simple. It’s a huge accomplishment for us.”
Despite losing a tough quarter-final 3-1 to the ROC team, the Danes hope they inspired the fans watching on TV in Copenhagen, Aarhus, Odense, and beyond. They’ve come a long way since first hosting the Worlds and coming tenth in 2018.
The veteran team members – averaging more than 30 years of age – will treasure this Olympic experience forever, even though it came under the shadow of the global pandemic.
“There’s something magical about the Olympic rings, wearing the rings on your clothes, and seeing the other athletes from sports other than hockey,” Regin said. “So I would say this ranks the highest.”
The Danish women can echo those sentiments. Simply getting to Beijing was an enormous win for coach Peter Elander’s squad. After all, they squeaked into the Olympics with a 3-2 shootout loss to host Germany at the qualification tournament in Fussen in November.
The women, captained by SDHL veteran Josefine Jakobsen, didn’t get off to an ideal start at the Wukesong Sports Centre. Giving up two last-minute goals and falling 3-1 to host China certainly wasn’t how they drew things up. After getting hammered 6-2 by Japan, the Danes looked like they might be headed for a repeat of their Women’s Worlds debut in 2021, which saw them go winless and get outscored 15-3 through four games.
While they missed a quarter-final berth with a hard-fought 3-1 loss to Sweden, they outshot the Damkronorna 26-21 and were in it till the final buzzer. Even though Denmark finished tenth, as in Calgary, their 7-14 goal difference marked a real improvement.
“I think the team played amazing hockey the last two games, and we’re really showing the world that Denmark is not just here to watch the Olympics but to play to win,” said starting goalie Cassandra Repstock-Romme.
“You’ve just got to keep moving, because it’s getting better every time you put on the skates, every time you step on the ice,” Repstock-Romme said.
For the Danish men and women to become bona fide IIHF medal threats, a lot of work lies ahead. But there’s nothing like debuting at the Olympics and being competitive to elevate a sport’s profile. If you love Danish hockey, August 2022 and May 2025 can’t come soon enough.