Danish team stuns U.S., Finland

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:57 PM ET

It was spectacular enough news to merit front-page headlines in all the major newspapers.

It is a Danish version of the Miracle on Ice.

And it’s a very good thing for international hockey.

Denmark is abuzz over its Cinderella-story hockey team, which has posted two major upsets at the world hockey championships in Cologne, German.

The surprising Danes opened the tournament on Saturday with a 4-1 victory over Finland, and then stunned the heavily favoured Americans, 2-1 in overtime.

Yes, neither the Finnish nor American sides had all their best players, and the Denmark goaltenders were outstanding in both games.

But the Danes were considerable underdogs nevertheless.

“Their team is impressive,” Team USA (and Maple Leafs) GM Brian Burke told the Toronto Sun via e-mail.

“They’ve played two very strong games.”

Hockey is generally ignored in Denmark, a nation of 5.5 million, where soccer (football) rules the roost and handball is said to be the No.2 team sport.

The professional hockey league (now called the AL-Bank Ligaen) has been around since 1954, but is not considered an elite loop.

Most of Denmark’s best players ply their trade elsewhere.

The Danish national team once held the embarrassing record for the most one-sided loss at a worlds, losing to Canada 47-0 in 1949.

But The-Little-Team-That-Could’s success in Germany has, according to Ben Hamilton, the editor of the English-language Copenhagen Post, caused a sensation in the small Scandinavian nation.

“This has put the sport on the map and undoubtedly there will be a generation of kids who will take in these results and say, ‘I fancy that game,’ ” said Hamilton, a Brit.

The front page of the Berlingske Tidende newspaper screamed, ‘Novel Danish ice hockey sensation’, while on the front page of the Jyllands-Posten, the headlines rang, ‘The (team) shout with joy.’

Virtually every major news outlet splashed the hockey team’s success on their front page, even bumping down coverage of the Danish World Cup team and the European fiscal crisis.

The two wins guarantee Denmark a spot in the qualification round and makes the world championships that much more interesting.

Hockey is a sport dominated by six superpowers (Canada, the U.S., Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic), with a handful of secondary powers, such as Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Belarus and Latvia — though those teams rarely win at the highest level.

After that, the remaining teams are pretty much cannon fodder for the big boys.

But wins by Denmark over Finland and the U.S. and a shocking 3-2 victory by Norway over the Czechs on Tuesday have added some intrigue to the annual tournament, and some hope for the future that the depth of the sport is growing.

“People are quite amazed when they win,” said Hamilton, of the Danish team.

“But now there seems to be a hunger to do even better.”

Denmark is currently ranked 13th in the world, but the sport has grown substantially the past few years.

Denmark made it back to the main pool of the IIHF world championships in 2003, after a 54-year absence.

That season the Danes posted two historic wins, defeating the States 5-2 and tying Canada 2-2.

The difference between then and now is that, in 2003, there wasn’t a single Danish player in the NHL.

Now there are six, including four playing in Cologne, forwards Frans Nielsen of the New York Islanders, Peter Regin of the Ottawa Senators and Lars Eller of the St. Louis Blues and defenceman Philip Larsen of the Dallas Stars.

Forwards Jannik Hansen of the Vancouver Canucks and Mikkel Boedker of the Phoenix Coyotes are not playing.

The Danes are coached by a Swede, Per Bäckman, who replaced Canadian Mike Sirant in 2008. There are just over 4,000 players in Denmark, and Hamilton doesn’t see those numbers increasing dramatically in the next few years because there’s not the infrastructure in place for most winter sports.

“Sometimes foreigners’ perception of Denmark is that it’s a very cold country with snow on the ground 3-4 months a year, when, in reality there’s only snow on the ground for 2-3 weeks,” he said.

“In fact, Denmark’s record at Winter Olympics is just dreadful.”

But while the numbers in hockey aren’t exploding, the level of play certainly has improved and Hamilton said the sport is gaining interest.

The hope in Denmark is that the national side someday qualifies for the Olympics and perhaps wins a medal at a worlds.

“It’s really been quite an amazing season,” he said.


Videos

Photos