A Danish Disaster

BUFFALO, N.Y. -Team Denmark defenceman Lasse Mortensen (#14) falls in front of Team Denmark goaltender Emil Gransoe (#1) during a game between Canada and Finland at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship at KeyBank Center on December 30, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo from Anders Marshall/Euro Hockey)

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.

Denmark was on top of the hockey world during the exciting 2015 World Junior tournament, beating Switzerland in the round robin to stay in the top group, something very few teams had been able to do in the years before them. The fans went nuts when they beat the Swiss, who had quite the tournament in Vancouver this year.

They did just enough to make it to where they are today, beating the likes of Finland and Switzerland (Denmark came second in Group A at the 2017 World Juniors) to keep their hopes alive in the past few years. But their luck truly dried up with just two NHL draft prospects on the roster this year, and it showed as the team couldn’t score or keep pucks out of their own net — the 14-0 loss to Canada was somewhat telling.

To show how bad Denmark’s tournament was, here is how many goals that the team that got relegated scored (in the years where two teams were relegated, just the lower-ranked team) in the entire tournament over the past decade.

Denmark had three goals in one game this year, the fewest goals scored by a relegated team since 2004 when Ukraine only scored three goals and allowed 60 (Denmark allowed 34).

So, it was pretty telling when the Danes allowed two goals on two shots before the game was five minutes old. While Denmark certainly had more scoring chances, they didn’t get many high-danger opportunities, and only had two shots total in the first 13 minutes of play in the third period (Kazakhstan had zero in that time frame) before eventually losing 4-0.

Denmark only had seven players record points in the tournament. Jonas Røndbjerg, Malte Setkov and Andreas Grundtvig combined for the only three goals they scored in the tournament, coming all in one game.

Staying up in the top tournament is a very tall task for any newly-promoted team, but the Danes not only did it for 2015, but they lasted up until this year. But in Vancouver, they looked defeated from the get go. Yeah, a 14-0 loss to the tournament hosts can do that to you, but even though they even outplayed Russia and Switzerland at points, they looked like a team lacking an identity or any true passion.

They were lucky that the likes of Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand were available to them at the 2015 World Juniors because, without them, they likely wouldn’t have been able to outlast the Swiss and stay up.

But the future isn’t looking so great for the Danes. In December, Denmark had a terrible time with their U18 team, losing 8-2 to Latvia, 8-2 to France and 10-0 to Norway. To put it in perspective: the talent pool isn’t that great for those other three nations. The Under-18 team has taken bronze at the past two World Championships, and just four players are eligible to return this year (Jonathan Brinkman, who had a point for Denmark at the World Juniors, can return).

Sure, it’s early, but some Danish fans are concerned.

Denmark has a few promising 2003-born prospects with Marcus Almquist, Philip Nolsoe and Magnus Rosenorn, but they are still a few years away. They don’t have a whole lot of talent coming up in the 2001/2002 age groups and will need to get creative when scoring.

Goaltending wise, Mads Søgaard didn’t get a lot of help in front of him, but considering how highly rated he is (and from what I’ve seen from him, he’s one heck of a goalie), he didn’t do the Danes any favours. On many occasions, he allowed goals that he surely should have stopped, including the two that got him pulled early against Kazakhstan.

But he’s still young, He can still represent Denmark again next year in Division IA, assuming he’s loaned out. But when you look at his progression, no Danish goaltender — including NHL star Frederik Andersen — has received as much attention as Søgaard is before the draft. He’ll be just fine. There’s Christian Elmose, who had so-so numbers at the U18s last year, Frederik Søgaard, who was a reserve player for Denmark this year as a 17-year-old, and Frederik Dichow, the guy tasked with playing most of Denmark’s U18 games this year. But none of them appear to be as good as Mads Søgaard, who looks destined to be their starting goalie going forward.

Losing this year was a sign that things aren’t looking good for Denmark, because even though they weren’t great, most people would have still predicted them beating Kazakhstan. Yet, that didn’t happen. They had an opportunity to keep things rolling, and they couldn’t even beat Kazakhstan, a team that got blown out in almost every game. Denmark simply couldn’t generate quality chances despite their many shot attempts and they didn’t have the speed or defensive skill to keep the puck away from their goalie.

So, we’ll see how the Danes move forward. The team does have eight players that can return next year, including Philip Schultz, which is huge. Don’t be surprised if Denmark returns to the top group for 2021, but that seems like an eternity away.

I truly loved watching Denmark play over the past few years. George Sørensen was an absolute blast to watch at the 2014 World Junior A Challenge and was an underappreciated part of that miracle team for Denmark a few weeks later. Ehlers was one of the best players to ever play for a team that just got promoted. That team made watching hockey fun in what still stands as one of the most exciting tournaments I can recall.

But those days are far behind them. Next year will be the fifth tournament since that eventful trip to Canada and despite winning a few games, there hasn’t been much progress. Røndbjerg may turn into a solid NHLer, but that’s about it on offence.

Denmark is such a happy country. I just hope their junior hockey team gives them something to smile about soon.