Goaltenders Gaining Momentum in Denmark
When goalies from Finland started filling the nets in North America in the early 00s, it did not come as a very big surprise to many in the goaltending community. Their system was specifically designed to dominate at the position. It turned out to be highly influential, as Sweden quickly followed and emulated a lot of what Finland was doing to achieve success.
The influx of Finnish and Swedish goalies was predictable, but which country is going to be next?
Keep an eye on Denmark.
There was a time when it was extremely uncommon to see a European goaltender in the net for an NHL team. North American goalies ruled the league for decades until the 90s and early 00s, when the league saw an explosion of talent from overseas.
In 2004, a 27 year-old Finn by the name of Miikka Kiprusoff wrestled the starting job in Calgary from Roman Turek and Jamie McLennan. As a product of the San Jose Sharks system, he appeared from relative obscurity and stepped in to lead the Flames all the way to game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
After that initial wave, new goalies with names like Nurminen, Backstrom, Rask, and Niemi appeared every year and were achieving great success at the NHL level.
It is a systemic process that has set Finland and Sweden apart in recent years. Ensuring that every single goaltender from a young age received quality goalie coaching was the most important aspect, and it gave each goalie a level playing field from the first time they stepped on the ice.
Sweden saw the results, and essentially copied the system that Finland had been using. Sweden has always been full of great coaching and expertise, but their system was similar to what it is like in North America. There was very little organization at a national level, and information was rarely shared between coaches. Once they changed the system and shared more information, they began to have success.
North American goaltenders have been playing catch-up ever since.
Denmark: The Hidden Hockey Gem
Copenhagen, Denmark is only a brief 30-minute drive over a bridge from Malmö, Sweden. Plenty of goaltenders have made their way out of Sweden and played professionally, but the same type of raw goaltending talent in Denmark has been left untouched for years.
Denmark is home to a very unique social system. Healthcare is free, welfare support is massive, the majority of schooling is paid for, homelessness has virtually been eliminated, and it is much more affordable for families to put their children into sports. As a result, they have one of the world’s highest taxation levels.
Michael Lawrence, owner/head instructor of PRO Goaltending and current goaltending coach for HC Ambrì-Piotta, helped explain what is happening in Denmark with great detail.
“Minor hockey in North America is a rich man’s sport,” said Lawrence in an interview, “In Denmark, it’s a different social system. It doesn’t matter how much the other goalie’s parents are making, everyone has the same opportunity.”
The access and availability of all sports in Denmark, not just hockey, is astounding. Three out of four children and about half of the adult population participate in a sport on a regular basis. Taking part in activities is an essential aspect of Danish life, and it is funded appropriately.
Ice time and equipment prices are not major issues for Danish children growing up. It is entirely possible for a financially stricken goaltender to get as much practice time as a goaltender from a more well-off family, as long as the interest is there.
While most Scandinavian countries are known as modern welfare states, no other country has quite the same level of social assistance as Denmark. It’s giving them a unique edge on competition, and this level playing field is creating some interesting results.
“The availability of development is high end, greater than it is in North America. They have more access to ice,” explained Lawrence. “Their rate of development is higher across the board – all because of their social system.”
Hockey players do not get left behind or discouraged from the sport in Denmark. Interest in hockey also happens to be at an all-time high because of the success of players like Lars Eller, Jannik Hansen, and Frederik Andersen. Kids in Denmark are starting to see that it is possible for them to succeed and play professionally.
Developing Denmark’s Talent
Michael Lawrence’s connection to Denmark began in 2006-2007 while he was coaching for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL. The team acquired an undersized Danish goaltender from Sarnia named Sebastian Dahm. Dahm stepped in and led the team to the OHL final, where they would eventually lose to Plymouth.
Dahm, having come through the system in Denmark, knew about the potential of a lot of the goaltenders in his home country. He also knew that the country did not have the type of goalie coaching to develop their own talent.
Convinced about the untapped potential in Denmark, Lawrence agreed to go to there and set up a camp for goaltenders. With the help of Dahm, and tireless work by supporters Peter and Heidi Jensen, the first camp was held in the summer of 2010.
Only 18 goalies showed up.
It was a discouraging number, and the camp lost money. Families initially did not want to pay for the extra instruction, but the seed was planted in their mind, and they soon realized that it was this specific type of coaching that they were missing. This is what they needed in order to take the next step as a hockey-playing nation.
The camp was wildly successful this past summer. Only four years later, they were loaded with about 100 goalies, and it was held over the course of three weeks in two different cities – Odense and Rødovre.
Denmark’s athletes are reaping the benefits of their social system. With hockey’s rising popularity, specific coaching is becoming more common, and the results can already be seen.
“It’s still a year or two away, but Denmark is very rich in talent,” Lawrence noted. “I think their national program is going to get better in goaltending very, very quickly.”
Lawrence sees it almost as a “perfect storm” of sorts. He also noticed that people from that area tend to have a more ideal body type for becoming goaltenders.
“These guys are just too athletic, too big, and now that they have a good foundation at their disposal, they’re taking off.”
Combine that with a strong work ethic, a growing interest in the sport, and the availability of ice time and coaching for every single player because of their social system – it’s only a matter of time before Denmark becomes the next goaltending factory.