Frans Nielsen was a hockey player who played in over 1,000 NHL games. He knew that this would be his last season.
Denmark was destined to win the Olympics.
Nielsen and his team finally overcame the last hurdle to win the qualifying tournament last summer. The women's team soon followed their lead. The Olympics in hockey are the first time the Danes have been to the Olympics. It is a joy for all involved, as well as the program and the fans back home, that they will be there with two teams.
Nielsen stated, "I have been following this all my life." "We finally achieved it."
In 1946, Denmark joined the International Ice Hockey Federation. Three years later, the men's team lost its first game to Canada by 47 points.
Although the women's team was founded in 1987, a whole generation lost out on elite competition due to Denmark being out of the IIHF top division between 1992 and 2019. Players who have been around for many years have had to go through many ups and downs in their climb to the top.
Emma Russell, a winger who played her first game for Denmark in 2012, said that "we're really involved with a long one. Like, it's no sprint -- it's almost a marathon." It was a lot of sweat, tears, and blood.
These were crushing defeats. Men's side: Denmark lost to Belarus and Slovenia in 2018 and 2018, respectively, and France and Norway 2010
From NHL pioneer to Olympic champion
Nielsen was the first Dane to be a player in the NHL in 2007, and many more were followed. However, the Olympics remain a dream that was many upset victories away.
"They've been right there a lot of times, but we just couldn’t get over that feeling," said Lars Eller, Washington Capitals centre, who trails Nielsen in career scoring among Danish players. It's huge for Denmark to be there. It's an important step for Denmark's sport and all sports in general.
Even though Eller and other NHL players are unable to attend, it's still important on the men's side. It's important to have the women’s team in the delegation. Without hockey, there would only be 14 athletes.
Nielsen stated that Denmark is not a country with a lot of winter sports. It is a great thing that we can bring two hockey players. It's going to make the country look better at the opening ceremony.
The women played against China on Friday before marching in the ceremony. It's the fulfillment of a dream that was close to being realized before the Sochi Olympics. The Pyeongchang Games were not possible due to three consecutive qualifying losses.
It's hoped that it will be the beginning of youth hockey development in this soccer-crazed country with 5.9 million players. There are only 1,918 registered junior and 702 female players and 27 indoor rinks.
Captain Josefine Jakobsen stated that the Danish Federation is doing a lot to promote the game at home. Both boys and girls are having different activities at home with Olympic rings, with all the necessary equipment, showing their games, and so on. It will help both the boys and girls develop, I'm certain.
A run by the women or the men could make a difference for Danish hockey. However, expectations are low, even though Germany's men's hockey team reached the Olympic final four year ago.
Nielsen stated, "As Denmark I don't believe we can come here and expect gold." You never know what you might find. Take it one day at a while, play one game at a given time and we'll be able to surprise everyone.
Missing NHL talent
It was an achievement for the country to even make it to the Olympics. It was crucial to be on the men's side, that many of Denmark's top players, including Nikolaj Ehlers from the Winnipeg Jets and Oliver Bjorkstrand of the Columbus Blue Jackets joined the team for August's qualification tournament. The NHL season is still in progress, so they are unable to participate.
Nikolaj's father, coach Heinz Ehlers said that "they really wanted it this time." Because he was injured, his son wouldn't have been able play in the Olympics.
The NHL withdrew, so neither Eller nor Bjorkstrand and Carolina All-Star goaltender Frederik Andrésen will be able to get this chance. Nielsen stated that he felt sorry for his countrymen, but believes they are young enough to be eligible to travel in 2026.
Nielsen, 37 years old, knew that this was his last chance and laughed when he realized that he would not be playing in Beijing for Denmark if he was still in the NHL.
He said, "All things worked out for the good."