One of the most exciting things about Team Denmark is that every time they play in the tournament, they've hit some new high. They are a perennial Cinderella story that started in Montreal in 2015, and although they still haven't made it past the quarter-finals, they have improved every year.
In 2017, they picked up five points, including their first ever regulation win, and finished fifth in the tournament — also a new high. Not bad at all for a country housing 26 rinks.
They're in a new group this year, so there’s no Russian squad to scare, and no Switzerland to battle to an extra-time result. In Group A the team faces Slovakia, two juggernauts in Team USA and Team Canada, and a Finnish squad with the determination — and the talent — to have a bounce-back year.
Slovakia presents the best opportunity for Denmark to pick up a win and avoid a relegation meeting, but in 2017 they also beat Finland (admittedly in a weirdly off year for the perennial super power), so it is not entirely out of the question that they might pick up a point or two elsewhere. It's never a good idea to underestimate Denmark.
Team Denmark final roster
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|#||Player||Position||League||Current team (NHL)|
|1||Emil Gransøe||G||NAHL||Topeka RoadRunners|
|31||Kasper L. Krog||G||Denmark||DK SønderjyskE|
|30||Mads Søgaard||G||NAHL||Austin Bruins|
|9||Rasmus Birk Heine||D||Denmark||Rødovre Mighty Bulls|
|14||Lasse Holm Mortensen||D||Denmark2||Rødovre SIK|
|6||Jakob Jessen||D||Denmark||Herning Blue Fox|
|4||Christian Larsen||D||Denmark||Odense Bulldogs|
|2||Oliver Joakim Larsen||D||Allsvenskan||Leksands IF|
|3||Malte Setkov||D||Allsvenskan||IK Pantern (DET)|
|7||Jeppe Urup Mogensen||D||AIK J20||SuperElit|
|11||Valdemar Ahlberg||F||NAHL||Austin Bruins|
|17||Lucas Andersen||F||Jr. A SM-liiga||Jokerit U20|
|21||Daniel Bækhøj Nielsen||F||Denmark||Herning Blue Fox|
|20||Joachim Blichfeld||F||WHL||Portland Winterhawks (SJS)|
|28||Christoffer Gath||F||Denmark||Herlev Eagles|
|22||Andreas Grundtvig||F||Denmark||Esbjerg Energy|
|19||Nikolaj Krag Christensen||F||Denmark||Rungsted Seier Capital (STL)|
|25||Magnus Molge||F||SuperElit||Malmö Redhawks J20|
|16||Jonas Røndbjerg||F||SHL||Växjö Lakers HC (VGK)|
|8||Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup||F||USHL||Fargo Force|
|27||Philip Louis Schultz||F||Denmark||Rødovre Mighty Bulls|
|23||David Søgaard Madsen||F||SuperElit||Växjö Lakers HC J20|
|13||Christian Wejse Mathiasen||F||Denmark||Esbjerg Energy|
Denmark has a new high of four drafted players: Jonas Røndberg, drafted in the third round by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, Malte Setkov, drafted in the fourth round by the Red Wings also in 2017, Nikolaj Krag Christensen, selected late in 2016, and Joachim Blichfeld, taken immediately after Krag Christensen by the Sharks.
They also have eight returning players in Blichfeld, Krag Christensen, Røndbjerg, Oliver Joakim Larsen, David Madsen, Christian Wejse, Kasper Krog, and Emil Gransøe.
Traditionally, Denmark has played a very strong defensive team game. In fact, last year, their defensive play was so good that their penalty kill went 15 for 16, allowing only one goal in the quarter-final meeting with Russia, and was a big part of their success.
The other piece in that puzzle was terrific goaltending. While Lasse Petersen is too old to play in the tournament this year, Kasper Krog is returning. Krog backstopped Denmark to both their shootout loss against Switzerland and their regulation win against Finland, putting up a 2.88 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage in those two games by making 34/36 saves and 48/53 saves, respectively.
He will likely be called upon to be at least that good this year as well. Gransøe didn't play at all last year, but will likely be Krog's backup, and will also have to be excellent. Fortunately, Denmark's goalies tend to play lights out when it matters most.
While they don't have an Oliver Bjorkstrand or a Nikolaj Ehlers, the likely top line of Blichfeld, Krag Christensen, and Røndberg should prove to be a good one. Blichfeld is producting over a point per game in the WHL, while Røndberg has spent significant time playing against men with the Växjö Lakers of the SHL, and he's not the only one. Though most of them haven't put up many points, 10 of the players have spent 20 games or more playing in men's leagues this year.
Like last year's squad, the team is significantly deeper offensively than those that skated with Ehlers and Bjørkstrand; a definite strength for a squad that does best when they score and defend by committee. In fact, this team looks to be considerably deeper than last year's, which was already a step up from the year before that.
As they have in the past, Denmark still lacks a game-changer, and doesn't have anywhere near the depth of teams like Canada, the USA, Sweden, and the like. However, this has always been the case, and they have been able to compensate with a disciplined team game. The question remains, as always, how long they can withstand the barrage.
Which leads to the second issue. Despite a tight team defence, Denmark always hemorrhages shots against versus the super powers, which puts tremendous pressure on their goalies, and on their defence as a whole. Generally they manage to absorb the pressure early, but crumble with the workload late in the second and through the third.
It will be up to Jonas Røndbjerg, Nikolaj Krag Christensen, and Joachim Blichfeld to pick up the mantle from players like Alexander True, and Mathias From, and for Krog and Gransøe/Søgaard to perform at least as well as (or better than) the goalies in previous years.
In past years, Olaf Eller has done a magnificent job at the helm, between preaching a team game that led to a practically perfect penalty kill, and guiding a roster that is always wildly outmatched in almost every game to astounding wins, and courageous (though often crushing) defeats. It remains to be seen whether he can pull it off yet again, but if this team shows the same heart that his past teams have displayed, the Danish Lions may just make history again.