Hockey flourishing in Denmark

SCOTT UNGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

Halfway through his two-year stint with Denmark's national hockey program, Winnipegger Mike Sirant is already seeing the program he manages impress the hockey world.

As sports director and head coach of the Denmark men's national team, Sirant, who is on a two-year sabbactical from the University of Manitoba Bisons men's hockey team, led the senior Danish squad to a 10th-place finish at the world championships this past spring. It's the best finish that country has ever had in the A pool of the IIHF.

"It was a probably the most successful year that they've had in their history," said Sirant, who is in Winnipeg for a three-week vacation before heading back overseas to prepare for the second half of his stint.

For the first time ever, Denmark's under-20 and U-18 squads were both promoted from the B pool to the A pool for next winter's world championships in their respective divisions. It completes the national hat-trick, as the men's national team has been competing in the A pool at world's since 2002.

Their international success was coupled with some individual success of Danish-born players.

"Another thing in Danish hockey to make it really a year to celebrate was that we had the first Dane make it to the National Hockey League," Sirant said.

That happened when the New York Islanders called-up Frans Nielsen from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He was followed by Jannik Hansen of the Manitoba Moose, who made his debut in the NHL late in the season with the Vancouver Canucks.

Sirant says he can sense around the country how much hockey has grown over the past couple of seasons.

"From what I've seen and what I've heard, over the past three or four years there have been big strides that have really culminated in the success that we had this year," he said.

"I have three boys that play youth hockey in Denmark and there's some really good young talent.

"The next group of young players coming up through our junior system are going to be better than the current players that we have."

'VERY LIMITED'

But, as with most developing hockey nations, finding rinks to play in all the time can prove to be difficult task.

"We are very limited in the number of rinks we have," Sirant said. "There's only 16 indoor rinks throughout the country. That limits the grow of the sport somewhat because it is pretty saturated in terms of ice time for the kids that are already playing."

And as for the team in Winnipeg he will return to in a year's time, Sirant is happy with what he sees his replacement, Don MacGillivray, doing with the Bisons.

"He's a good hockey man and he's done a real good job recruiting," Sirant assessed.

"Having coached at the U of M for 13 years, the Bisons are very close to my heart. Even though I am on the other side of the ocean, I'm always watching the results."


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