International Ice Hockey Federation

Great Danes

Great Danes

Nielsen excited for 2018 Worlds host Herning

Published 16.12.2015 19:41 GMT+2 | Author Erin Brown
Great Danes
Danish national team player Frans Nielsen before a World Championship game. Photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Danish hockey has come a long, long way since its international debut, a 47-0 loss to Canada in 1949.

Denmark has maintained a presence in the top division of the Ice Hockey World Championship since 2003 and has emerged as a pipeline of talent for elite leagues around the world.

Furthermore, Copenhagen and Herning will serve as host cities for the nation's first IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in 2018.

At the forefront of the country's rise is New York Islanders forward Frans Nielsen, the first Danish citizen to be drafted into and play in the National Hockey League.

Selected 87th overall in 2002, Nielsen made his NHL debut in 2007 and has since appeared in 557 games, recording 111 goals and 208 assists.

Today, Nielsen is one of six Danish regulars in the NHL.

Nielsen began his professional career in the Danish league with the Herning Blue Fox, winning a championship with the club in 2000/01. He then shifted his career to Sweden, where he spent five seasons with Malmo and Timra. Nielsen has also logged considerable time at the international level, with Denmark's junior and men's national teams.

A two-way forward with a scoring touch, Nielsen is off to yet another solid start in his ninth season with the Islanders, netting 22 points (12 goals, 10 assists) in 32 contests.

IIHF.com's Erin Brown caught up with the trailblazer recently to discuss the rise of Danish hockey and his still-close connections to future World Championship co-host Herning.

Your hometown of Herning is going to be hosting the World Championship in 2018. When you found out about that, what was your initial thought?

Awesome. They built this new, beautiful arena there. I know the guy who built it is a big hockey fan and always dreamt about having a game there. He's been trying to get an NHL preseason games over there. It's really exciting and exciting for him when they got the World Championship. He can finally get some hockey games there.

What can you tell us about your hometown?

It's a small town, but you can say it's one of the few hockey towns in Denmark. They have been producing a lot of good players there lately. It's going to be great. There's going to be huge support there. It's an easy place to get to from Germany and other places. I'm sure they're going to do a fantastic job to make it fun. It's not big, but there are some good small bars and I am sure the fans will have a blast there.

Danish hockey has really been up-and-coming, and in a sense, you've been a trailblazer. Since you have been drafted, there have been many more players to come over to the NHL. What are your thoughts on that?

It's just amazing. I think the dreams of kids at home have changed. When I was younger, you used to dream of playing in Sweden. Of course, you had the NHL in the back of your head, but no one ever made it before. So you kind of didn't know if it was possible. Players my age, when we were younger, we all dreamed of playing in Sweden, the Elite League. Now, everybody, it's the NHL they want to get to. The kids are committed. They're working hard. Especially in Herning. There are a couple cities in Denmark that are just training one talent after another. It's fun to see and follow. It just seems to keep coming.

And the Herning Blue Fox is a very successful team, too, with the most championships of any team in the Metal Ligaen.

They always had a winning culture there. They teach it from a young age. There's no easy way – it's a lot of hard work. The way Herning has played, I remember as a kid it’s always been a hard-working team. I think it's just something about the mentality. When you get in there, it's a winning culture, from small kids to the elite team there. They have definitely had a lot of good things going there for a long time now.

How about traditions among the hockey fans in Herning?

I haven't seen a regular season game there in a long time, but they're typical European fans with the drums and cheers.

Who were some of the guys you admired growing up, whether they were in Sweden or the NHL?

Of course I grew up watching my hometown team a lot. We had some good players, especially Todd Bjorkstrand. His youngest son Oliver is with the Columbus Blue Jackets organization now. Petri Skriko, he came over and coached me for one year there. He played a lot of years in Vancouver and had a lot of good years there. They had some really good imports that helped guys like me showing what it's all about. It's another thing they are good at – the imports they do bring in are good for the young kids. They have played at a high level and are mentors for them.

Do you go back to Herning often?

I go back every summer.

Do you get the chance to work with the youth teams?

We have a hockey school every year. I skate with Herning, too. They have their training camp in August, so it's perfect for me to get started there. So I skate with them for a month every summer.

For you personally, you've had some excellent years recently. Is there something that has changed in your game which has helped you break out?

No, I think you just get older and wiser and figure it out. I don't feel like I have changed as a player.

 

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