Denmark’s veteran team exceeded expectations in Beijing with a seventh-place finish. That surpassed its all-time IIHF World Championship peak of eighth place (2010, 2016). Even in the absence of NHLers, this was a huge step forward.
The positive vibes began in the preliminary round with wins over the favoured Czechs (2-1) and Swiss (5-3). After rallying to edge Latvia 3-2 in the qualification playoff game, the Danes gave the eventual silver medalist ROC team a gritty battle before falling 3-1 in the quarter-final.
So that was a wonderful chapter in this small Nordic nation’s IIHF history. But three months later, the goal is for coach Heinz Ehlers and his men to parlay that momentum into another quarter-final berth in Finland – and maybe take it a step farther. It’ll require some clutch scoring and great defence, but it’s not out of the question at the 2022 Worlds.
GoaltendingSebastian Dahm isn’t the world’s most famous Danish goalie. That honour belongs to Frederik Andersen of the Carolina Hurricanes, who has been sidelined with a lower-body injury since April 16. But Dahm, the 35-year-old starter of Austria’s KAC Klagenfurt, consistently gives the Danes a chance to win internationally with his relentless focus and athleticism.
The numbers don’t lie. Since Dahm became Denmark’s go-to guy between the pipes in 2015, he has posted a save percentage of 92.8 or better in six of his nine IIHF competitions including World Championship, Olympic qualification, and Olympic play.
With that said, Frederik Dichow, who plays for Sweden’s Kristianstads IK, also shone in his Olympic debut. The 21-year-old made 31 saves in a 2-0 group-stage loss to the ROC team, and this 195-cm, 87-kg netminder will only get better.
Herning native Mathias Seldrup (Fredrikshaven White Hawks) comes to his first Worlds as the third-string goalie. It’s like old times for the 25-year-old. He made his lone World Junior appearance in the same arena in Helsinki, where he was named Denmark’s player of the game in a 6-1 loss to Canada on 28 December, 2015.
The Danes will go as far as their goaltending carries them.
DefenceNobody will mistake any of these Danish defencemen for Cale Makar or Roman Josi. However, as a group, they bring good smarts, calm, and positional play. It’s based on years of mutual familiarity and experience competing against high-quality pros in Sweden, Finland, and Germany.
The Lauridsen brothers, who play for Malmo Redhawks, combine size and determination and were important factors at the Olympics. Markus Lauridsen, 31, not only scored Denmark’s first goal of the tournament against the Czechs, but also added the third-period power play winner against the Latvians. Veteran leader Jesper Jensen Aabo (Krefelde Pinguine) will suit up for his 11th Worlds at age 30, while Nicholas B. Jensen (Eisbaren Berlin) is the team’s largest rearguard at 189 cm and 102 kg.
If they play within their limitations, this veteran blue line corps should be able to keep things respectable against the NHL forwards in Group A from Canada, Germany, and Switzerland.
ForwardIt won’t be the easiest tournament for Denmark offensively, given the absence of scorers like Oliver Bjorkstrand, Mikkel Bodker, Patrick Russell, and Nicklas Jensen. However, in Nikolaj Ehlers, the 26-year-old son of coach Heinz Ehlers, the Danes boast an offensive weapon they didn’t have in Beijing.
Ehlers is the most talented forward in Danish hockey history, and the nifty left wing scored 55 points in 62 games in his seventh season with the Winnipeg Jets. It was the sixth straight season with 20 or more goals for the man drafted ninth overall in 2014. Pro-rating Ehlers’ points production in 2021-22 would translate to a career-high 73 points over a full 82-game schedule. Ehlers also heated up down the stretch, including a nine-game point streak from 30 March to 16 April.
Joachim Blichfeld, 23, enjoyed a breakout AHL season with the San Jose Barracuda, potting 24 goals and 21 assists in 61 games. Longtime Jokerit and national team captain Peter Regin, 36, is nearing the end, but he still managed three goals and 20 assists with Switzerland’s HC Ambri-Piotta this year.
Finland marks the final curtain for Danish legend Frans Nielsen. The versatile 38-year-old forward, who had 27 points in 33 games for Eisbaren Berlin this year, leads his countrymen with 473 NHL points in 925 games for the Detroit Red Wings and New York Islanders. Nielsen delivered magic moments in Beijing, scoring the first-period penalty-shot winner against the Czechs on Day One and Denmark’s lone goal against ROC in the quarter-final. Everyone in Danish hockey is pulling for him to go out on a high – ideally in Tampere during the playoffs, rather than in Helsinki.
CoachingDespite the success in Beijing, coach Heinz Ehlers is under no illusions about the challenge that awaits Denmark here. Since the 56-year-old Aalborg native joined the national team as an assistant coach in 2018 (switching to head coach in 2019), the Danes have never cracked the Worlds quarter-finals.
Assisted by ex-NHL bluelinre Andreas Lilja and longtime national team stalwart Jens Nielsen, Ehlers will preach patience and stress defence. He’ll also look to get the power play – an effective weapon for Denmark over the years – clicking at a higher level. It was 3-for-14 (21.4 percent) in Beijing, ranking eight out of the 12 teams.
And even though Heinz Ehlers is sure to maintain his game face about this matter, getting to coach his son Nikolaj at a Worlds for the first time is a nice bonus. Nikolaj racked up a tournament-high nine points in three games when Denmark qualified for the Olympics in Oslo in August 2021.
Projected ResultsAt the last four Worlds, the Danes finished 12th in 2017, tenth in 2018, 11th in 2019, and 12th in 2021. Sitting tenth in the IIHF World Ranking, they deserve credit for staying in the top division continuously since 2003.
Nonetheless, after Beijing, just surviving should no longer be good enough for Denmark. To set the right tone for the next generation of Danish talent, a quarter-final berth has to be the goal. It’s achievable in Group A, where Canada is the only obvious gold-medal contender.
With that said, few would be shocked if the Danes – likely due to an offensive deficit – wind up around tenth place this year either.