Head coach Jan Karlsson is ready for his fourth IIHF WM in charge of Denmark. He has also extended his contract so it includes the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Denmark. Players on the bench: Julian Jakobsen, Jannik Hansen, Mads Christensen, Morten Green, and Morten Poulsen. Photo: Jan Korsgaard
Hockey in Denmark owes Sweden a lot
Co-operation and a short distance to Sweden are some of the keys behind the Danish success.
To Swedish players and fans, the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Champions will hopefully leave them with the feeling of playing on home ground as the newly opened Royal Arena lies just a few kilometres west of where the Oresund bridge connects Sweden and Denmark. And there is already a feeling of excitement when looking ahead to the Swedish hockey fans visiting Denmark and creating a great atmosphere in Royal Arena, when one of the biggest sports event held on Danish ground will be played in May 2018.
The great neighbourliness between the two Scandinavian countries cannot be understated. Sweden is a hockey nation, which has always had a special place in the hearts of Danish hockey fans and players.
In the foot steps of Ehlers
Since a boy named Heinz Ehlers set out from Aalborg in 1984 to play ice hockey for Leksands IF, becoming the first Dane to play in the SHL, this formula have inspired around 40 Danish player to travel the same road to Sweden. This season alone, seven Danes are playing in the SHL .
The statistics from the national team also highlight the ‘winning formula’ of what Heinz Ehlers did back in 1984. Since winning the promotion to the top group of nations back in 2002, 80 per cent of the players on the Danish national team have played in SHL for shorter or longer periods of time.
A remarkable note to these statistics is that seven of the eleven Danish NHL players have come directly from Sweden. Frans Nielsen, Peter Regin, Oliver Lauridsen, Lars Eller, Mikkel Bodker, Philip Larsen, and Frederik Andersen. The last four played for Frolunda Gothenburg.
Denmark’s sensational progress on the international stage has been helped greatly by the terrific Swedish coaches, who passed on the experience and knowledge from one of the world’s leading hockey nations to Denmark.
Jim Brithen was Head Coach in the period 1996-2001 and created the foundation for the Danish national team, on which Mikael Lundstrom (2001-2006), Per Backman (2008-2013) and Jan Karlsson (2013-present) have further evolved and refined the Danish talents. Dan Hober is another significant Swedish coach. He was head coach in the mid ‘70s and two seasons in the period of 1994-1996.
At the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Jan Karlsson will be leading the Danish Lions for the fourth time. Before his job as head coach for the Danish national team he won three Swedish championships, two with Frolunda and one with HV71. As assistant national coach Jan Karlsson was a part of a remarkable achievement as with Tre Kronor, as Sweden became the first nation to win both Olympic gold and the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in the same year in 2006.
“I have had some fantastic moments and years with the Danish national team. Experiences I will never forget. Denmark is a nation of great talents in sports such as football, handball and ice hockey. The talent, the enjoyment, and engagement radiates from the players,” says Jan Karlsson.
“No questions can be asked as to the meaning of discipline to Swedish coaches, but the success of the Danish national team must be found in the impressive work with youth. The Danish clubs are really ambitious and they work hard. For a smaller nation like Denmark with 26 ice rinks it almost defies nature, that they develop so many great players.”
Jan Karlsson is without a doubt the most offensive-minded Swedish head coach to orchestrate Denmark.
“The defensive aspect of the game is important, but to me it is not the main theme. To score goals and win is my focus. My philosophy is to play as offensive as our opponents allow us. Also, the players like to be offensive. My philosophy is a great match for the Danish mentality.”
“The national team was like a holiday to us”
Morten Green, the current captain and record holder for most games (303) played for Denmark, debuted in 1998 and has played for the national team ever since. Only a few players in the world can match that number of games for a national team. Now the Danish playermaker has returned to the Danish Metal Ligaen after adding 13 SHL season and three DEL seasons to his hockey resume. The 35-year-old veteran is competing for Rungsted where he began to skate.
“Over the years Sweden has had an important influence on Danish ice hockey. It has been in our nature to join the Swedish league. We would not have been where we are today without the inspiration from the Swedish model.”
The former record holder for the most played games is Jesper Damgaard, who unfortunately had to stop his professional career due to several concussions. Damgaard had a resume of 256 international games and participated 17 times in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship (including B-Pool). On club level he played 14 seasons in Sweden for the Malmo Redhawks and MODO Ornskoldsvik.
“Jim Brithen founded the standard of discipline, game structure, professionalism, and was the man behind the promotion to the best division in international hockey. Before his presence, the national team was like a holiday to us,” says Jesper Damgaard.
“When I came to Malmo as a 17-year-old in 1993 and hockey became my livelihood, Sweden was the highest possible achievement you could hope for as a Dane. Nowadays the new generation uses the Swedish league as a stepping stone to dream even further, about the NHL.”
It starts at a young age
The most successful national youth coach is Olaf Eller. He is the man behind some of the most impressive youth team achievements in Danish ice hockey history, including leading Denmark to the quarter-finals of the IIHF World Junior Championship three years in a row. He is also the father of Washington Capitals star Lars Eller.
As a player himself Olaf Eller played 104 international games and participated in seven IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship tournaments. His playing career was mainly based in Denmark (Rodovre and Rungsted), but he was the first and only Dane to coach in the second-best division in Sweden, Allsvenskan.
“We have a perfect co-operation between Denmark and Sweden, which is mainly built on the Swedish model. If Sweden was not our neighbours, I think our international level would be questionable,” says Olaf Eller, whose next challenge is to defend the top-8 position at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo.