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How One Tournament Defined Denmark’s Best Decade

Today should have marked the start of the 2020 IIHF World Championship, but like most sporting events, it was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. My own plans were to write reviews on each game and showcase some of the greatest moments that a tournament like the Worlds has to offer. As a Dane, the tournament in 2020 would have marked the 17th Worlds in a row with Danish participation. An amazing feat for a country with around 5500 active players and 25 rinks in total. However, the tournament also would have marked the 10-year anniversary for the 2010 Worlds. A tournament where Denmark set the tone for the best decade in Danish hockey. A decade that I will describe in a five-part series, to the best of my ability.

The 2010 IIHF Worlds. The Worlds of Hope and Belief

Let’s go back 10 years. Back to 2010 when Kesha’s “Tik Tok” topped the charts and YouTube was dominated by “Nigahiga”. It was in this year that Denmark took its greatest-ever leap forward within the hockey scene. In the years prior to 2010, they had established themselves as a mainstay at the top group of men’s hockey, however, never making it further than the qualifying rounds of the Worlds. It was more likely that Denmark would lose the first 3 games of the Worlds, but somehow stay up via the relegation rounds. This was also the case in 2009, so going into the 2010 Worlds in Germany, the Danish expectations started similarly. Survive and then prepare for next year was the feeling as the new decade started.

However, as the team started to get announced, people started whispering about expectations for more than just surviving. You heard talks of top-10 finishing or even getting to the quarterfinals. Utter madness for Denmark it felt like, but eventually, even the players called it their goal. An ambitious goal but with the strength of the eventual team was starting to look possible. With the arrival of Frans Nielsen, Lars Eller and Peter Regin from the NHL on top of a strong team with depth from the SHL, with the likes of a young Frederik Andersen, hope for a strong Worlds for the Danes grew stronger than ever. Hope that was be proven very valid as the puck dropped only weeks later.

Because in their first game, the Danes took the nation and hockey world by storm. They had not only won 4-1 against Finland, but they dominated the game from start to finish. Denmark had deservingly beaten their Nordic big brother, who, despite having a weaker team than other years, still boasted Peeka Rinne in net. The fact that Denmark was able to play hockey and beat some of the top nations with speed and physicality was something brand new and optimism ensued in Denmark. However, it wasn’t until Denmark upset team USA, filled with NHL stars, that the nation really took note. Denmark had a team that could do more than just survive, but compete with everyone.

The Danish Dynamite Period: The Game of the Decade

Into the qualifying rounds Denmark went, and here they faced a must-win game against Slovakia. A team that once again was seen as the better team on paper, with Miroslav Šatan, Andrej Sekera, and Peter Budaj. However, on May 14th, 2010, Denmark played the best hockey game in their history. From the first faceoff, it was clear Denmark was faster, smarter and more skilled than Slovakia. Only 65 seconds into the game, Peter Regin fired a bullet past Budaj. A dream start, and it only got better a few minutes later, as Denmark took full advantage of a 5 on 3. 2 quick goals and it was 3-0. Budaj’s night was over without a single save, and in came Rastislav Staňa. Little did it help, as the Danes were running riot and 3-0 became 6-0 before the end of the first period.

Stunned and dazed the Slovak’s left the ice of the Lanxess Arena in Cologne. The Danes did the same but with massive smiles on their face and the hockey world were lost for words. The Danish underdogs were not only beating a top-8 nation, they were dominating them. As Danish commentator, Jimmy Bøjgaard, said during the Danish broadcast, as the 6th goal went in “It’s sensational. It’s complete and utter madness what’s happening in Cologne”. People could not believe this result and even the Russian coach was taking note of Denmark. Praises to Denmark were coming in from left and right and despite not winning any more games in the group, the Danes had clinched their first-ever quarterfinal spot.

(Danish commentators: Jimmy Bøjgaard and Olaf Eller)

In this game, they took on Sweden. Denmark’s big brother when it comes to hockey and, despite the best efforts from the Danes, Sweden won 4-2. An ending to a legendary tournament for Denmark, who, for the first time, saw themselves in the mix between some of the true greats in the sport. This tournament set the bar for Danish hockey and expectations going into the future tournaments were no longer just about surviving but trying to make the quarterfinals. And while it would take 6 years before it happened again, the level of competitiveness from the Danish team, allowed them to stay in most games they played since 2010.

The Rise of the Danish NHL’ers and Jannik Hansen’s Missing Stanley Cup

When Frans Nielsen made his NHL debut in 2007, he broke the glass ceiling for Danish hockey and ventured into uncharted waters. He showed everyone in Denmark, that the NHL dream was possible and achievable. When the new decade arrived, he had gotten company from other Danish hockey players. Lars Eller, Jannik Hansen, Peter Regin, Mikkel Bødker and even Philip Larsen managed to get some games in the 2009-2010 season. Five Danish-born, trained and raised players had become parts of NHL rosters. The Danes had turned a few heads in the NHL, and in the coming drafts, it seemed like there was no end in sight. Frederik Andersen was drafted in 2010 as the first Danish goalie. And then, during the 2010-2011 season, yet another milestone was reached.

While Danish players had taken part in the playoff before the season, none had made it past the second round. That was until 2011 when Jannik Hansen helped the Vancouver Canucks go all the way to Stanley Cup Finals. With massive goals against Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and overall good play on the third line, he captivated the heart of a lot of Danish hockey fans, who stayed up until 5 or 6 am, just to watch him and the Vancouver Canucks’ pursuit for the Cup. All hoping to witness the moment that sealed a visit to Denmark from Lord Stanley. In the finals against Boston, he even scored the first Danish goal in the Stanley Cup Finals. Alas, in Game 7, the Canucks fell short, and the visit from the most prestigious trophy in the world eluded Denmark this time around.

(Picture by Dinur Blum)

Overall, Jannik Hansen showed the way for the Danes watching. He was drafted in the 9th round of 2004 draft and had to work his way up the ranks. His blinding speed did help him, but it wasn’t the reason he made it to the NHL. That was down to how hard he worked for his team. A true warrior and role model for the future generation. It wasn’t without reason that he was called the Honey Badger in Vancouver. He never did get his Cup, but he did play 626 games in the NHL. For a 9th round pick, that’s a feat unlike most. In terms of the pioneers of Danish hockey players in the NHL, Hansen is one of the biggest names, along with Frans Nielsen.

Peter Regin: The Injuries That Stopped a Promising Career

The 2010 Worlds will be remembered for a lot of things in Danish hockey. The win against Slovakia most of all. Another was the pure talent of Peter Regin, who was nothing short of amazing in the tournament. Playing nearly 30 minutes per game, playing on the powerplay, penalty kill and on the first line. Regin was everywhere for Denmark and was by far Denmark’s best player. 7 points in 7 games for Denmark speaks for itself. He looked outstanding and it wasn’t a one-off tournament either.

Weeks before that, he had played in the playoff with the Ottawa Senators against the Pittsburgh Penguins. While the Sens ended up losing in this series, Regin stood out as the breakout star. Scoring 3 goals in the 6 games, expectations for Regin was high going into the next season. Sadly, a shoulder injury ended his 2011 season. A season that was a disappointment for Regin. as he never really found his footing. In the 2012 season, he started well, but after just 10 games his season was done after he re-injured the shoulder.

After that Regin never seemed like the same player. He bounced around a few teams in the leagues, but it never seemed like he had the time to settle down and find a spot before a new injury occurred. His golden hands and skill were gone and it was first after he went back to Europe and the KHL, that his career found its footing once more. In Jokerit, Regin managed to revive himself, and since the move, he has shown the talent he truly has. This has also been helped by the fact he has managed to stay healthy for the most part. Hardworking and able to play in all situations, he even became the captain of Jokerit for 3 seasons, before leaving to an unknown destination this offseason. The happy ending in Jokerit was the one Regin deserved in the NHL but had ruined by horrible injuries.

(Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

The Trial Run in the World Juniors

When speaking about the World Juniors and Denmark, most probably think about the 2015 team that took Toronto by storm, when they arrived as the newcomers at the tournament. However, it was nowhere near the first time they had been a part of the tournament. Back in 2011, Denmark qualified for the tournament for the second time. A massive achievement for the team who now had a chance to test themselves against the best nations in the world.

Denmark was put into a very difficult group, with Canada, the USA, Czech Republic and Finland. An impossible task for the Danes, as they completely were steamrolled in all games in the group. Within the 4 games, they allowed 38 goals and lost all of the games very convincingly. It’s hard to say it was embarrassing, as Denmark were miles behind Canada and the rest, but it was far from good. The relegation round saw Denmark play Switzerland and Latvia. While not easy opponents, it wasn’t impossible to find a way to win.

The first game against Switzerland proved just that. Denmark managed to stay in the game and give the Swiss a true run for their money. After 60 minutes, Denmark had earned themselves their first-ever World Juniors point with a 3-3 scoreline. Overtime was next, and here, Switzerland proved too strong, as they scored the winner after 3 minutes. That set up a must-win game against Latvia. The loser would go down, while the winner stayed. It was another close game, once more going all the way to overtime. Sadly, it once again went against the Danes, when Ņikita Jevpalovs scored the game-winner.

Disappointment for the Danes, but it wouldn’t be the last we heard of the Danish junior team in this decade. The run was over, but it was a taste of what the rest of the decade would bring for Denmark. Join in next week as we look into the events of 2012 to 2014.

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