An Open Letter From A Dane To The Canadian Hockey Fans

Dear Canadian Hockey Fans,

With the World Juniors being on, hockey season is well and truly back, and it’s absolutely wonderful. The tournament is one of the highlights of the hockey season. As a hockey fan in Denmark, I watched it near religiously every single year since 2015. Even when the games have been starting at 4 am over across the pond, it has always been worth it. The workarounds are manageable for a time, and it is the purest form of hockey. It’s addicting to watch the future of hockey battle it out against each other, showcasing their fast skating and incredible skill.

However, each year. it also brings out the bad side of a few people. It’s especially true for a few Canadians, who feels an entitlement towards the whole tournament. Their view on nations like Denmark, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland is that they are nations that bring nothing to the tournament and only tarnish the reputation of the Juniors since they aren’t on the level of the very best nations.

This can lead to blowouts and causes endless cries to change the tournament. From the tweets and more, it seems like nations below Canada’s level is a stain on hockey and should never be allowed to go. The solution to them is either by cutting the number of teams down to eight or six teams or to revive Team Europe, so the competitiveness is more equal.

As a European, I want to showcase why exactly the current structure is the best and why the suggestions would hurt hockey worldwide. This is the perspective of what the Juniors means for a nation who never has a chance of winning it, and is looking at three major defeats at least each tournament.

Exposure That Grows The Sport

As mentioned, I’m living in Denmark and I grow up with hockey. I fell in love with the game as a kid and never looked back since. Being from Denmark, I was one of the very few people within my year that I knew as a child who was since most people were watching football (soccer) or handball. They are the main sports, and hockey is far down the pecking order.

Since 2000 when I was five and fell in love with the sport, hockey has been on the rise. From Denmark having the first Danish trained and raised NHL player, Frans Nielsen, break the glass ceiling to World Championship consistency, hockey has grown exponentially over the years.

This, however, is mostly within the nation, and Denmark’s first real international recognition came in the 2015 World Juniors. With Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand leading the line, the team took Toronto by storm. Almost beating both Russia and the Czech Republic before beating the Swiss in a shootout, the buzz around the team was beyond anything I experienced.

In Denmark. the win against Switzerland sparked the quarterfinal against Canada to be shown on national television. It was the first game in 25 years to be broadcasted nationally. In Canada and around the world, praises towards Denmark’s team were constant and they felt like a real hockey nation.

This hype sparked the next two World Juniors to be shown on television in Denmark and once again, the quarterfinal against Russia was on national television. People were watching and it was clear that Denmark was starting to evolve into a hockey nation year by year. This development is still going on, even outside of the Juniors.

However, having been knocked out in 2019, it’s clear that the hype around junior hockey and hockey has taken a hit. It’s raising but not as fast any longer. The media isn’t making the same stories or highlighting the team the same way as they were in 2015-2019.

This shows the power of Juniors and how it can help hockey grow for the participating nations. Even if Denmark got slapped around in a few games and some might say isn’t worthy of playing Canada or the USA, they did and it helped grow the sport. It has created Danish hockey legends and is the reason I started watching the juniors like a lot of other Danes. The small team’s growth helps hockey turn into a more global game and that can only happen if they are able to play against the best of the best.

Winning Isn’t Everything

For Russia, Canada, USA, Sweden, and Finland, the main aim of each tournament will always be winning it all. Gold is the expectation and they want to at least get a medal every single year. Anything less and it’s a major disappointment. But for nations like Denmark, Austria, and Germany, the goal is something far different.

They want to stay in the top tier for the simple reason of getting to experience the games against the best of the best once again since it’s a once in a lifetime experience for a lot of the players. Far from everyone makes it to the NHL, so being in the Juniors might be the highlight of their career for the kids. It’s something that they will remember forever.

Just look at Austria, who this year was the punching bag of possibly the toughest group ever seen in World Junior history. With Russia, Sweden, USA, and the Czech Republic, the newcomer’s faith was sealed from the beginning, yet they played with pride. In an interview with TSN, during an intermission of Austria’s game, Marco Kasper talks about the pride it is to represent his national team on the world stage. Even in a blowout, its pride is the main thing that runs through the kids. To represent their country against top nations is what they deserve and what they have earned by qualifying.

https://twitter.com/IIHFHockey/status/1343028991163301889

For some of them, the World Juniors can also be used as a way to showcase their talent. The best example of this year’s World Juniors being Sebastian Wraneschitz, who has been incredible. Going from a name none had heard of, to one of the most talked-about players in these Juniors, he has been the goalie of the tournament.

Scouts must have taken note of him and I think a lot of people will be watching to see if this was a one-time thing or if he delivers this on a constant level in the Austrian league. Regardless of what it turns out to be, Wraneschitz will go down in history. He will be referenced for a long time as one of the best goalies seen in a World Juniors, similar to Denis Godla, who stole the show in 2015.

The proudest I have been as a Danish hockey fan was when they took on Canada in the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and played against Connor McDavid in 2015. I have seen Lars Eller win the Stanley cup as the first Danish player ever, and seen Denmark host the men’s World Championships in 2018, but nothing compares to the pride I felt watching Denmark on national television against one of the best teams in World Junior history. All of this is while being cheered on by a sold-out building of the most knowledgeable hockey people in the world. Oh, and Denmark lost that game 8-0. This feeling of pride despite a loss is what the Juniors can do.  

Team Europe Was An Abomination

One of the main suggestions I have seen from those who believe that the World Juniors needs to be more competitive has been to take inspiration from the World Cup of Hockey in 2016. There, Team Europe was assembled from the nations in Europe outside Sweden, Czech Republic, Russia, and Finland. This gave the team a larger pool to work with and they even made the finals, where Canada beat them. A nice debut in terms of sporting performance, but I’m yet to find someone in Europe who liked that team.

To be honest, I cheered for Canada in the finals. They were playing for their nation and had more likable players. Even if Denmark was represented on the other end, it felt fake. I didn’t feel pride in seeing the Danish be a part of it, and it was as far from a World Cup team as can be. When Denmark plays against Canada or one of the big nations, I watch it knowing that we might lose, but also proud that we can play them.

I see Denmark’s growth and it’s a direct statement as to how we have improved over the years. Add in players from Slovakia, Germany, and Switzerland and it turns into a glorified club team with a few Danish players on it. It’s not useful to see how far we made it on the world stage. Had team Europe won, Danish hockey wouldn’t have been praised like it was in 2015, 2016, and 2017 due to the World Juniors.

Without national pride, it doesn’t matter how well Team Europe did for those who were meant to support it. For the neutral, it might have been good, but for those meaning to celebrate a goal, it was nothing. It was a husk. A team that was carried around for the sake of entertaining the elitist of hockey, who doesn’t understand what lesser nations of hockey are going through.

I think a lot thought they were helping and giving teams a chance to win, but winning is nothing next to representing your country against the biggest names in the world. Team Europe wasn’t a nation, so it was meaningless when it comes to passion and exposing hockey to those countries trying to develop the game in the tier below the big six nations.

Ten Is The Perfect Number

With all that in mind, and how much it means for the smaller nations to take part in the Juniors as their own nation, it’s not like I want a blowout to happen for the sake of over inclusion. The IIHF shouldn’t expand the number of teams going to the Juniors. Ten is a great number which ensures that there is also prestige in taking part.

On a Junior level, there just isn’t always a good enough batch of players for nations like Norway and Denmark to field a strong enough team, so they shouldn’t take part unless they had earned it the year before. However, trying to remove teams from the World Juniors for the sake of competitiveness is equally wrong.

Removing two or even four teams is probably the most common suggestion I seen from those wanting a more interesting tournament from start to finish. They want to get rid of blowout games like against Austria or Germany by making sure that teams unable to ever win it all makes it. But all this does is make hockey a sport for the elite and that’s it. It will be like baseball, where it’s a national game rather international game, and that would be beyond a shame.

https://twitter.com/IIHFHockey/status/1344440983543566337

Imagine a tournament where Tim Stutzle isn’t allowed to compete and showcase his talent. That would have happened if the World only had eight teams. Switzerland would be in it, but they got smoked 10-0 by Canada. Another blowout, so they might be next on the chopping block. Removing two teams means that Russia, Canada, USA, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic will most likely be the teams and will be the ones people care for, leaving a desolate wasteland behind them, where no other nation can prosper and grow up to challenge them.

Teams need a chance to showcase themselves against the best in the world. To see where they stand against them. This might lead to a bunch of blowouts, especially in the highflying and run and gun junior hockey, where it’s just high scoring, but eventually it will lead to new nations challenging for glory and delivering the upset. But they need to get used to playing against the top of the pile, going through spanking after spanking until suddenly it’s a really close game between one of the top teams.

Today, the teams like Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Slovakia might not have a chance to win, but with a chance to improve and a way to measure themselves which comes from World Junior participation, they might have hopes of eventually joining the table as a true hockey nation that can win the Juniors. For hockey to be international, we need the blowouts and the smaller nations in the World Juniors so they can develop.

We want to become a hockey nation, but we need Canadian hockey fans to help us get the chance to become one.

Sincerely
Frederik Helmer Frandsen

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44 COMMENTS

  1. Great commentary and I totally agree with you. It wasn’t all that long ago that only Canada and Russia were real contenders, and look at the teams in the mix now. This would probably never of happened if they were not exposed to elite competition.

    • Thank you!
      And I agree. Hockey has developed far more internationally over the years and a good example of that is Finland who absolutely shows that its doable with the right type of exposure. Go back to the 90ths and they really isnt that much of a treat for the top teams. Today they are one of the hottest nations in the world and i constantly feel like they can win on the style they play alone. Now Germany and Switzerland is kinda similar gains with Denmark and Slovakia not far behind.

  2. I disagree with Ken Campbell. I have always love to see all of the talent from other countries even if they are blowouts.

  3. Well said! I totally agree. All of the participating teams deserve our congratulations and respect. WJC is some of the very best hockey in the world!

    • Its the most wonderful time of the year! To me its the most fun tournament to watch and well worth being up at 4 am to watch! 🙂

  4. Your article was well written and appreciated. I’m Canadian and love this tournament every year. It’s the best of all hockey watching these young guys showcase their talent. I watch these games with my heart on my sleeve and always feel for the underdogs. They deserve so much more for their skills that they put out every game they play. It’s sad to see posts from fellow Canadians bashing them. It can be a once in a lifetime chance to get there and I am proud of every team that gets this chance.

    • Thank you for the kind words 🙂
      You hit the nail on the head. Its a thing every player is working for and they are doing all they can to experiance. Even when there are apart of the Juniors the next goal is to make sure the next batch of players gets to experiance the Juniors and gets to play the best of the best.

  5. 2 years ago my son and I got to meet Team Denmark in Vancouver during the World Juniors. They were awesome! They signed a hat and gave to my son. We were there for a training camp with Hockey Canada and the 5 year olds used the ice after Team Denmark. After the got dressed Denmark came out to the bench and cheered the kids on as they were doing drills. This is definitely the greatest hockey experience I have ever had and my son still talks about it. Thank-you Team Denmark.

    • The pride i feel reading that is honestly out of this world. Im glad your son enjoyed it and im so happy to hear that the danish camp was open towards you and the kids in general.
      Its brand new to them to be able to write autographs and be treated like that. Especially from one of the major hockey cities on planet earth. Hopefully Denmark can return to Vancouver once more in the near future! 🙂

  6. As a Canadian, who also watches the tournament every year- no matter where and what time, I just want to tell you how much I agree with and support your perspective!! The tournament is so much better this way, and I love watching all the teams compete.

  7. As a player, coach, and fan I love seeing the sport grow. I agree that taking the opportunity away from countries like yours will not help the sport that has given me so much enjoyment in life. It only takes small successes to start building a solid foundation. I hope we continue seeing the Danes, Germans, Swiss and other smaller countries continue to play, grow, and eventually succeed. You may not have the large talent pool of a Canada, Russia, or USA but that does not mean you cannot play exciting competitive hockey and occasionally shock the world. I wish you continued growth and future success. Someday hopefullt my son will get a chance to play against a Danish team.

    • Exactly. Hockey is the greatest sport in the world, and it isnt even close.
      I agree that all it takes is one moment to grow the sport a lot. Look at Germany. Their silver medal in the 2018 Olympics has grown the sport by a lot the past few years. In Denmark Frans Nielsen making the NHL and Denmark staying in the World Championship since 2003 has been paramount to growing the game and make us a lot more difficult to face over the recent years.
      Hopefully we will see the day where that meeting happens! I know for one i will be watching it with pride regardless of the outcome!

  8. As a Canadian, I think we should be the LAST country asking for lesser skilled teams to be discouraged or cut out. After all, being a small populated country, with less than 40 million people, we are constantly NOT in the top 10 countries in a lot of sports. Soccer is a good example. We never qualify for the World Cup in men’s Soccer, so that would put us in the lesser skilled countries of that sport. We still deserve a chance and so do lesser skilled hockey nations. How do they get better, without playing the best, to improve their skills and ability to compete on a level playing field.

    • Great take! And I do think we will see Canada in the World Cup soon with their players. If you do make it, its because its earned. Like it is when Austria makes it. Who cares about the score. Its a proud moment to see them play against the best of the best!

  9. Sadly, Canada has its fair share of elitist followers who think that anything short of a gold is worthless. I love seeing the countries on the rise showing up at the tournament, even if they do get beaten up a bit thats part of growing. I have no reason to believe that teams commonly near the bottom of the groups like Austria, Denmark, Latvia, etc. won’t be back with a vengeance in a few years. As for Ken Campbell, he has no idea what he’s talking about and is 100% one of those elitist people who acts so condescending to other countries and just shows a complete lack of respect for other countries and the game of hockey and he should be embarrassed. As if Austria didn’t earn their right to be in the tournament just like everyone else. Love the article, and as a Canadian I agree that some of our population needs a bit of humbling when it comes to hockey, especially on the international level

    • Absolutely agree. The takes like Ken Campbells is from the elitist and far from representing the true Canadian hockey fan. They know that the blowouts is the growing pains of a smaller nations rise to the top. 🙂 Its a view of people who isnt aware of what hockey use to be like in the smaller countries and how much just playing the best helps grow the game.

  10. I concur with your analysis regarding the World junior tourney and apologise for the arrogance/snobbery of some Canadian fans. As a billet mom of jr players ive always said to my players that a little humility goes a long way. That sentiment is sppropriate here.

      • Well said mr Frandsen. More times than not i find myself following and routing for an underdog. I’m in favor of more countries participating, not less.

        • Thank you 🙂
          I think 10 is the right number for now. Maybe in the future 12 teams can be done and i would take that over 8 teams thats for sure!

  11. I appreciate the perspective and agree with much of it.
    We enjoy winning but I think when mismatches occur, we feel a sense of guilt…as though we are bullying others, and that’s not a very Canadian feeling.

    But I don’t understand why Europeans have this need to turn everything into a patriotic national pride event.
    You do it with soccer as well, often for the worst.

    Can’t you just enjoy the sport without it being about waving your flag, face painting and feeling superior over other countries?

    • One of my few regrets was that I wasnt quite clear enough about it only being a minority of Candians who are having the view surrounding the smaller nations. I should have for sure.
      In terms of why we will… passionate about sports i cant say fully. I can say why hockey which is something that im this passionate about. It’s due to it being a less played sport over here, which i find to be the most fun sport to watch and i want to share it with people. Thats something thats easier to do if its exposed to the public, which is also why i made the article to showcase how much it can help develop hockey nations.

  12. As a Canadian, I agree that the Juniors are great, because they bring multiple countries together, to celebrate the game.
    I would honestly want, even more countries involved, maybe Poland for example, or even some Baltic States. Vladimir Putin, of all people, said during the Sochi Olympic Games, that he was appreciative of Canada’s gift of Hockey to the World. Hockey is to be shared and enjoyed by all and Canadians, by and large, don’t look down on other hockey countries and don’t want to be perceived as such. Hockey is indeed, from this Canadian, “our gift to the World of Sports”.

    • Mr. Frandsen,

      Rarely have I read such an erudite and well put together opinion piece on any subject, let alone Junior Hockey. Congrats for giving us all something to chew on for the next while.
      I suggest calling Gary Bergman and offering up your services as Hockey’s first International Ambassador.

      • Awww thank you 🙂
        Not sure who Gary Bergman is but if it helps move hockey in the right direction count me in! 🙂

  13. A bit of rambling but I read it all. The tourney rules force teams to go for all out scoring.. Therefor making these blowout games more rampant. It’s not fun for anyone to blow a team out. If they expanded the tournament they could maybe have 2 tiers of teams. Top 6 and bottom 6. Bottom 1-2 and top 1-2 could switch places based on tourney results. That way the big 6 stay playing the big 6..and the smaller teams can compete against each other in the same tournament with the chance to move up to the big boy tier.

    • I could absolute see that being a way to do it. Especially if its expanded. Another way is to make it 4 groups of 3 with was something the IIHF mens World Championship did for a while. Top two advances. Bottom goes to a religation playoff where the bottom team switches with the winner of the 1A division.

  14. Agreed friend, and nice open letter you have penned. Most Canadians, well most that I know, actually cheer for the underdog teams unless, of course, they are playing Canada. However, we still will appreciate a team we expect to best handily to play well. We appreciate seeing good structure, team play, aggressive forecheck, etc… Especially against our home nation. I once drove to Ottawa just to watch the relegation game, as it was the only game I could see. It was between Latvia and Kazakhstan. I normally cheer for Latvia in tournaments as they are one of my favourite teams to root for, and I lived their fans playing instruments in the sparse crowd. I quickly started cheering for Kazakhstan as it became apparent that they were utterly overmatched by Latvia and they knew they wouldn’t be coming back. The emotions on their faces throughout the game, and afterwards has stayed with me until now and really opened my eyes to some things regarding these teams as it was only after the final whistle that I noticed the Kazakhstani players didn’t even all have matching gloves.
    I relish the day the ten teams competing all have a realistic chance at gold, for it may mean less medals for Canada, it will mean better hockey and stronger grassroots movements overall. Can’t wait to see you on the other side!

    • Fantastic story and its stuff like that which makes the Juniors the best tournament ever.
      Hopefully that happens eventually, because that would be fantastic for hockey!

  15. I also believe that the smaller hockey nations should continue to compete in all international hockey. That is how they will become bigger hockey nations. It will be a matter of time before Austria, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia or Switzerland compete for a metal. Just look at one of the best players in the NHL. Leon Draisaitl, German born elite hockey player. Here in Canada we have lost that spark. That creativity that happens when kids just play the game. That creativity that gave us Bobby Orr, Maurice Richard, Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and other like them. We are so focused on winning that we take the fun out of it. The game was designed to be fun. Kids in the smaller hockey nations grow up loving the game and wanting to have fun. That’s where creativity is born. If we drop the number of teams because we think they won’t be competitive enough for us, we rob ourselves the opportunity to witness some great hockey. The smaller hockey nations will catch up with talent, that is just a matter of time. What a tournament that will be.

  16. Good post. As a Canadian I can tell that within my circle we are definitely supportive or a larger tournament rather than a smaller one. This is wonderful hockey to watch and seeing counties grow and evolve over the years is the best part.

  17. Thank you for writing this, its dead on and exactly how i, and knowledgeable canadian hickey fans feel. The history of hockey since its introduction to Europe by Canadian troops following WWII illustrates your point. In 1956, a Senior team from Penticton BC win went to Europe and won the world championship and while Canada celebrated their success, it was no big deal as we expected to win. Little did anyone know they would be the last amateur team from Canada to do so. The Russian Red Army teams had arrived and that only took 10 years to hapoen and led to Canada withdrawing untill we were allowed to dress our best. This led to Russia touring playing NHL teams and probably the best gane i ever watched was when they played the Montreal Canadians New Years eve 1972 on national TV. Miontreal was a powerhouse team and it took 2 periids overtime before they finally won. Any lingering doubt about the quality and future of international hockey was gone. The World hickey championship now meant something. The best hockey we get to watch is the Canada Cup and most Canadians prefer it to the Stanley Cup. This has ked to similar events in baseball, basketball’ and even soccer, having their own versions of world competition.

    The first Jr championship i remember watching was in 1976 and the Canadian team included Wayne Gretsky. I recall a friend calling and asking what i was doing, i replied ” watching the next NHL suoerstar play junior hickey” He was 16 at the tine, drafted into the WHL which led to some great hockey and new teams in Canada when the NHL expanded to include them in self presevation move. Thus has led to players from around the world playing in NHL and no doubt in my mind there are many more who could.

    By all means Nirway should keep playing and Norwegians should be proud and supportive if their efforts. This will lead to more kids playing, better competition in your leagues and eventually teams that wull skate with the best in the world in the not so distant future.

    As a fan, i doubt i will live to see the days of true world hockey leagues of Junior and NHL pkayers. This will happen, probably in divisions because of travel issues whereby each division would play a certain number of inter league ganes back and fourth. Stay the courae Niorway, you will be there. And you keep writing about it with articles like this.

    • That is actually an amazing story and view. Love the reference to history and you can absolutely bet i will be writing articles about it should the world hockey league happen 🙂

  18. Not all Canadians feel this way though, its too bad that some of the media poke fun at teams at times , but that is not indicative of all canadians, not even close. You open letter should have been to the Canadian sports media not the Canadian fans. You give instances of media talk only. Again, I would think By far ,most Canadian fans appreciate that we have this tournament each year no matter who is in or out

    • A valid critismism that i wish add to the article. I wasnt clear enough in my introduction to make sure to point out that this wasnt all fans of canada but a very small minority, that sadly is in the media like Ken Campbell

  19. As a Canadian, I agree with you completely. I am all for keeping the number of teams as is. In order for other nations to advance their level of play, they need the exposure to the best hockey players. As you said it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for kids to represent their countries proudly. It’s not all about winning it’s about the game and about giving it your all. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

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