The Danish Pirate
by Derek O'Brien|09 SEP 2022
Aalborg’s Julian Jakobsen during the Champions Hockey League game at Jukurit Mikkeli in Finland last Sunday.
photo: Mikko Kankainen
Aalborg Pirates captain Julian Jakobsen was in a good mood following his team’s opening game of the 2022/23 Champions Hockey League season. After falling behind 1-0 and 2-1 to Sparta Prague, the Pirates came back to win 3-2 in the Czech capital last Friday. Jakobsen assisted on the winning goal with 8:04 to play.

“Obviously, we knew what was on the other side,” Jakobsen said about Sparta, a team that made the Czech Extraliga finals last year. “It’s a good league and a good team. But over the last few years we’ve built a team with skilled, fast, experienced Danish guys. We know each other really, really well, and I think that showed today. Especially our character – coming back twice.”

Danish teams have won games in the CHL before, but none have advanced past the group stage – that’s something that Jakobsen and the Pirates will try to change this year but it won’t be easy. The other teams in Group A besides themselves and Sparta are Lulea Hockey from Sweden and Jukurit Mikkeli from Finland. Two days after their win in Prague, the Pirates lost 5-3 in Mikkeli. 

Their win over Sparta was impressive, nonetheless. It wasn’t merely a case of the goalie stealing a game. Aalborg outshot Sparta 33-26 and dictated the play at times.

“We took away time, which I think surprised them a little bit,” said Jakobsen. “We’re a speedy team, which we feed off in the league too. We really talked about that here. We came here to show what we can do and I think we succeeded in that.”

Jakobsen, 35, is the oldest and most experienced player on the team, having represented Denmark at 12 World Championships and the 2022 Winter Olympics. In the Danish men’s first-ever Olympic ice hockey appearance, they pulled off wins over Czechia, Switzerland and Latvia and finished a surprising sixth. 

“Nothing compares to the Olympics,” Jakobsen said with a smile. “Those are experiences you never forget. That gave us the confidence and the belief that we can compete.”

But he’s not the only familiar name in the Aalborg lineup, as forwards Patrick Bjorkstrand and Thomas Spelling and goalkeeper George Sorensen have also represented Denmark at the World Championships.

“That goes down through the lineup in that the younger players can lean on experienced guys,” said Jakobsen. “We also brought in a couple good imports – a couple of Swedes that played in the SHL – and also Kirill Kabanov, who’s been here for a couple of years. I think, resume-wise, we’re up there close to the big leagues.”

While the Danish national team has competed well against stiff international competition over the past 15 years, most of its big players play either in the NHL or in stronger European leagues, such as the SHL or DEL – both leagues where Jakobsen has experience. Could Pirates’ success in the CHL be an indicator that the Danish Ligaen is improving?

“I hope so,” said Jakobsen. “I mean, right now at home there’s a gap developing young guys. Money-wise, we’re not up there with some of the top leagues in Europe, which is one of the biggest things we struggle with.”

Not only did the Danish men’s ice hockey team make its Olympic debut in Beijing, but so did the women. Jakobsen’s sister Josefine is on the Danish women’s team, which in addition to the Olympics, just finished hosting the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Herning and Fredrikshavn, two familiar venues for Julian Jakobsen. 

“I talked to her on Tuesday,” said Jakobsen. “She’s home right now and I talked to her a bit. She’s tired right now but she’s doing better.”

The tournament ended in heartbreaking fashion for the Danish women. Needing only a point from their last group game against Germany to advance to the quarter-finals, they blew a 2-1 third-lead and lost 3-2 on a goal at 59:59. The loss not only took away the playoff spot, but relegated the Danish women to Division I Group A next year. 

“I watched that German game – it’s close to our hometown,” Jakobsen said of the 65-km trip from Aalborg to Fredrikshavn. “That was a tough loss. I really feel for them but I think in the end, with the season they had, with the Olympics, I think they’ll be pretty happy.”

Jakobsen is pretty happy too, but he’ll be even happier if he can help Aalborg build on the success of the game in Prague. After the two away games last weekend, the Pirates return home to host Sparta on Friday and Jukurit on Sunday. They then play Lulea twice in October to close out the group stage. 

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