Danish bench boss expects 'crazy' scenario
Team Denmark celebrates its shootout win against Team Switzerland during the group stage of the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Tuesday December 30, 2014. (Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/QMI Agency)
The Danes have already made international hockey history.
Now, they want to shock the world.
“We're going to face a scenario (against Canada in the world junior quarterfinal Friday night at Air Canada Centre) that even if I try to talk to you about it, you can only understand it when you've been there,” said Danish coach Olaf Eller, the math teacher whose son Lars plays for the Montreal Canadiens.
“Be prepared that we haven't played a game at this level against a home team that has picked itself to be the champions (and is) what the whole country is working for.
“Expect a scenario that is crazy.”
The Danes' first win – and qualification for the medal round – has caused a stir back home. This game has been picked up by one of the country's two main TV networks, a massive achievement for the small European nation.
“What we've accomplished so far, it's huge,” said Mads Eller, Olaf's son and a top forward on the team. “It's hard to compare winning the Memorial Cup (last spring with the Edmonton Oil Kings) with this, but if you're from Denmark and come from the environment we have, I'd say this is bigger.
“We're only 4,000 hockey players and all the guys on this team have known each other since we were 10-years-old.
“We're all great friends.”
They're not going to receive the charming underdog support from Toronto fans anymore. There's a real possibility things will not turn out well in this game for them.
But they're embracing what this means for the future.
“For youngsters home in Denmark, they see we can compete at a high level and hopefully, it makes it even more interesting to play ice hockey,” Olaf Eller said. “We've never survived (the top-tier preliminary round) before, but this time, we've done it through three terrific games – not just one (win against the Swiss).”
They surprised the Russians, taking them to a shootout, and lost to the Czechs in overtime.
They have three Canadian Hockey League standouts – Eller, Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand – on their top line, which is a rare luxury. Back in the summer, Olaf Eller planned to form a power trio up front and needed Portland's Bjorkstrand, who hasn't played centre in four years, to move to the middle.
“He's been really good,” Mads Eller said. “We had to figure that out and Oliver volunteered right away. He's adjusted really well to it and I believe we are one of the top lines here.”
It will be interesting to see if Canadian coach Benoit Groulx, who has last change, forces them to play against Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Sam Reinhart.
That doesn't worry Mads Eller.
“Every time we're on the ice, we're creating stuff, no matter who's out there against us,” he said. “I don't think there's one line that can stop us from getting scoring chances.
“We're excited to see who they're going to match up with us and see how it goes.”