Danes celebrate big turnaround
by Andy Potts|17 JAN 2023
Denmark’s players celebrate after getting the gold medals at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group B.
photo: Michal Chwieduk
What a difference a few months can make. In September, Denmark finished rock bottom in the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Group B and was lucky there was no relegated team. Yet on Sunday, just four months later, the Danes are celebrating a flawless tournament at the same level and looking forward to competing in Division IA next season.

For team captain Frida Kielstrup, it’s especially satisfying. This is her third and final tournament with the U18s, and she is leading her team back to the level where she made her debut in 2020.

“It’s a very nice feeling,” she said. “We talked about this and it’s very special to bring this team up a level and give them the opportunity to show what they can do in the future, to show the potential of this group.”

Potential is a big part of the Danish team this season. With an average age of 15.5, it was the youngest roster in Katowice. And the new additions, largely drawn from the 2008 generation, made a full contribution. Nikita Bergmann, aged 14, was the tournament’s leading scorer with 5 goals and one assist across four games. Kielstrup’s alternate captains, Silja Rasmussen and Klara Holm, are both 15 and will be back for more tournaments in future.

“This year we also have a young team so next year we will only have a few changes,” Rasmussen added. “We’re looking forward to some very exciting years with these players.”

Holm and Rasmussen were a big part of a defence that allowed just three goals in four games. Much of that was down to a close-knit roster forged in a busy schedule of regular team practices and meetings since September.

“Our teamwork this year was spectacular both on the ice but also off the ice,” said Holm, reflecting on how she and her colleagues quickly became friends as well as team-mates. “I think that’s very important for us. Next year we have high expectations.”

Goalkeeper Caroline Bjergstad was a big part of that success as well. She played every minute of the campaign and, after impressing in adversity in Austria in September, backstopped her team to a memorable gold here.

“[Caroline] was amazing,” added Rasmussen. “She always brings a good mood and a great attitude. She’s always encouraging us, speaking with us and that has a huge impact on the team. I don’t think we could have done this without her.”

However, Bjergstad was not named top goalie at the tournament. That honour went to Poland’s Nadia Ratajczuk. She had three shutouts in four games; the only team to solve her, inevitably, was Denmark. A 3-1 victory in the second game of the competition ultimately proved crucial; the host nation took silver in Katowice after blanking Spain, Korea and Chinese Taipei.

A team transformed

According to team manager Frank Engel Rasmussen, the change in Denmark’s fortunes since September is down to several factors. Part of it stems from circumstance. Due to the short time between the tournaments, and the planned change of coaching staff after last season’s competition, the U18 program arranged a more intense schedule of team meetings and practices.

“We know the previous coaching team did a tremendous job, but because of the short timeframe and the new coaching staff, we discussed how we could make sure everybody really got to know each other,” he explained.

That brought results in exhibition games, with Denmark winning two of its three encounters with a Norwegian team playing in Division IA. And it also had a huge impact on the team’s development.

As part of that formidable defence, Silja Rasmussen was well-placed to assess the impact. “We’ve played together a lot this season,” she said. “We got used to each other and we got used to playing together. And we got into some new strategies to keep goals out of our net. We also talked a lot about communication and speaking with each other on but also off the ice. We got to know each other well and that helps us to be better when we are playing.”

An exciting future

Promotion for the U18s reinforces the upward trend in Danish women’s hockey. Last season saw the country make its Olympic debut, as well as hosting the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship. All of that inspires the next wave of talent to believe that they, too, can play at the very highest level.

“That’s very exciting,” Kielstrup said. “Women’s hockey in Denmark hasn’t always been so good, it’s not always been seen as a thing. But now it is. 

“When the women qualified for the Olympics, that made a lot of funding available. Also, it helped to show Denmark that yes, women’s hockey really is a thing.”

Frank Rasmussen is also optimistic about the immediate future for the U18s. “We have a very good generation in Denmark of players born in 2008 and 2009 who will be able to participate next year. That 2008 generation is already bringing some quality players onto the team. A couple of them showed that they can score goals, which was one of our problems in September.

“Now we want to use this momentum. I’m quite looking forward to seeing what we can do in a year’s time when we are up against some better teams in Division IA.”

Second silver for Poland

Host nation Poland had to settle for silver, despite those three shutout wins. That’s a second runners-up spot for the Poles, who were pipped to promotion by host nation Austria back in September.

Spain claimed bronze after winning promotion from Division II last time. An overtime win over Korea was enough to secure a podium finish, while Indira Bosch was named best defender at the tournament. Korea took fourth place, while Chinese Taipei had a tough time, losing all four games and scoring just two goals as it came in last.

Three of the four leading scorers in the tournament represented Denmark. Bergmann led the way, and deservedly took the nomination for best forward. Fredericke Foss had 5 (2+3), including a vital early goal in the win over Poland, while another 14-year-old, Olivia Ranum, matched those stats. Spain’s Claudia Castellanos also had 5 (4+1) points to finish second in the scoring race. Poland’s Natalia Nosal was the most productive defender with 3 (1+2).
2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship Division I Group B