“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” – Henry V, IV.iii
Last year, Team Denmark was the quarter final casualty in Canada’s inexorable march to the gold medal, but they were there, and the fact that they were was something of a triumph on its own. Though the 8-0 loss was a bitter and thorough defeat, it did not eclipse the things they had accomplished. Two points from two overtime losses, and a historic win, closing out the tournament without even a whisper of the threat of relegation. As twenty-three players from a tiny country over 6,000 kilometers away saluted crowd in Toronto, the roar of the fans proved just how thoroughly Denmark’s Cinderella story had won the hearts of a nation. This year they are hoping to add another page to the history books — without Oliver Bjørkstrand, and without Nikolaj Ehlers as well.
|Thomas Lillie||G||SHL||Växjö Lakers|
|Lasse Munk Petersen||G||WHL||Spokane Chiefs|
|Mathias Seldrup||G||Metal Ligaen||Herning Blue Fox|
|Ludvig Adamsen||D||BCHL||Surrey Eagles|
|Morten Jensen||D||Allsvenskan||Rögle Ängelholm|
|Lasse Knudsen||D||Metal Ligaen||Aalborg Pirates|
|Anders Krogsgaard||D||Metal Ligaen||Esbjerg Energy|
|Matias Lassen||D||Allsvenskan||Leksands Stars|
|Christian Mieritz||D||OHL||Hamilton Bulldogs|
|Nicolai Weichel||D||Metal Ligaen||Rungsted Ishockey|
|Niklas Andersen||F||WHL||Spokane Chiefs|
|William Boysen||F||Metal Ligaen||Rungsted Ishockey|
|Emil Christensen||F||Metal Ligaen||Rødovre Mighty Bulls|
|Mathias From||F||Allsvenskan||Rögle Ängelholm|
|Jeppe Holmberg||F||Metal Ligaen||Esbjerg Energy|
|Marcus Jensen||F||Metal Ligaen||Herning Blue Fox|
|Kristian Jensen||F||SHL||Luleå HF|
|Jeppe Jul Korsgaard||F||Metal Ligaen||Aalborg Pirates|
|Nikolaj Krag||F||Metal Ligaen||Rødovre Mighty Bulls|
|Søren Nielsen||F||Metal Ligaen||Esbjerg Energy|
|Thomas Olsen||F||SHL||Malmö Redhawks|
|Jonas Røndbjerg||F||Metal Ligaen||Rungsted Ishockey|
|Alexander True||F||WHL||Seattle Thunderbirds|
In the hockey world, as in many other sports, it is not uncommon to hear a close-knit team likened to a family. For team Denmark, the statement is more literal. Hailing from a country with only 24 arenas, teammates are often quite literally family.* Names in boldface signify players returning to the team
True and Ehlers are cousins, many players have older brothers who played with them in last year’s World Cup, or even last year’s world juniors. Head coach Olaf Eller is, as many will remember from last year, the father of Montreal Canadiens‘ forward Lars Eller, and of Mads Eller, now playing for the ECHL Adirondack Thunder. Assistant coach Dan Jensen is the father of Vancouver Canucks‘ Nicklas Jensen, and of Markus who is making his return to the team.
Christian Mieritz, captain of the gold medal winning 2014 U18 D1A team, and the team’s final cut last year, plays for the OHL Hamilton Bulldogs and got into hockey because his older brother played.
Coach Eller says that while the team lacks the obvious upper-tier quality it had last year in the form of Bjørkstrand and Ehlers, this year, the level of the team’s overall talent is spread more evenly through the whole roster.
On the blue line, there is both experience and familiarity at this level of competition, as Matias Lassen, Jeppe Holmberg and Anders Krogsgaard all played on the team last year, and Mieritz will be hoping to build on his performance as medal winning captain.
Alexander True will likely find himself looked to as one of the team’s offensive leaders, together with players like Søren Nielsen, and the U18 top scorers Jeppe Jul Korsgaard (3 goals, 3 assists in 5 games) and Mathias From (4 goals, 2 assists). True has 18 points in 27 games this year for the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL, while From has 14 in 24 for Rögel’s U20 team in the development league, and Korsgaard has six points in four games for Aalborg’s development team and 7 in 25 for the big club. They will also be looking for contributions from players like Andersen, Holmberg, Krag-Christensen, Thomas Olsen and Kristian Jensen.
The team’s biggest strength is in their goaltending. Like Sørenson before him, likely number one goalie Thomas Lillie is going to have to stand on his head. Fortunately, the numbers indicate that he can. Playing for one of the bottom teams of the SHL’s development league, Lillie’s .916 SVS% is good for ninth overall. He’s had good showings in every level of international play, earning accolades for his performances. Lasse Petersen too is an accomplished goalie at the international level, having backstopped the U18 team to the gold medal last year with a sterling .937 SVS% and 1.60 goals against average. Denmark is going to need them both to have the tournaments of their lives if they are to escape relegation.
Not counting Ehlers, eight of Denmark’s players from the 2015 team are back, and nine of the other players who won gold with Mieritz and Petersen are hoping to earn spots.
While the overall quality of the team may have improved slightly, the fact that they lack a game-breaker like an Ehlers or a Bjørkstrand will likely hurt the team’s chances. Denmark’s best hope to avoid relegation may be to fight their way into overtime as many times as possible, or (more probably) to beat their likely opponent Belarus in the best of three relegation series.
Denmark is lacking in a single player who jumps out in the same way that Ehlers did last year. Instead the x-factors will likely be, as previously mentioned, an improved overall team game, the goaltending and the powerplay. Last year, the Danes scored eight of their ten goals on the man advantage.
While building on last year’s win and two overtime losses with a stronger showing may an impossibly tall order against a series of formidable opponents that include Canada, Sweden, and the USA, that certainly isn’t going to stop the Danes from trying.
To say that the odds are stacked against them would be putting it lightly, but whatever the outcome, they may well say, in the words of Shakespeare’s Henry V: we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
This is a more detailed version of my preview for EOTP, which can be found here. Also, a huge thanks to Patrik, aka @Zeb_Habs who was immensely helpful with explaining the European leagues.