Few would have picked Denmark to make it to the medal round, but with strong play on the back of a few young stars, the Danes are going to get a shot at taking home some hardware.
The World Junior Championship always lends itself to a few surprises. Maybe it’s stellar play by a young unknown or a star-making performance by a player who was thought to be simply a role player. This year, however, it’s the play of an entire team that’s the story.
With a 5-1 loss to Sweden on Wednesday, the Swiss were officially moved into the bottom of Group B, meaning Denmark will get the chance to play their way into medal contention.
While nothing is for certain and Denmark could be ousted as soon as the quarterfinal round, their strong play in each game of the tournament, save their 5-1 defeat to Sweden, has them as a serious darkhorse contender.
As Matt Larkin wrote on Monday, the Danes, led by Oliver Bjorkstrand, Mads Eller, and Nikolaj Ehlers, haven’t just been playing to enjoy the tournament, they’ve been competitive and given nearly every opponent a scare. They have fans that are expecting the team to do well, instead of just relishing the ride.
Bjorkstrand’s four goals and five points have him tied for second in the tournament scoring lead. Ehlers playmaking ability and speed has been on full display. The entire team has been resilient, and goaltender Georg Sorensen has become a fan favorite.
Certainly, Denmark would have liked to be able to win their way into the medal round or at least have been able to seal their own fate, but you could say their play from the opening day – taking a 2-0 lead on Russia and forcing the game to a shootout – has been them doing just that. It took a shootout for the might Russians to beat them, extra time for the established Czechs to pick up a win, and they scored a shootout victory of their own over the Swiss, who have been a fixture in the tournament for years.
The cheer from the Air Canada Centre crowd upon the Danish victory wasn’t ironic or to mock the team’s effort. It was sincere. It was the cheer of a tournament embracing an underdog nation, one that is now taking a step few thought they would.