By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
Denmark continues to be a hockey country on the rise, and Swan Valley Stampeders’ goaltender Lasse Petersen recently helped keep the momentum going forward with a gold-medal performance on the world stage.
Petersen played every minute of every game for Denmark at the recently-completed IIHF Ice Hockey Under 18 Men’s World Hockey Championship (Division 1, Group A). The Danes faced off against five other countries in a round-robin tournament where the top team would move up to the ‘A’ pool next spring.
And with Petersen in goal, Denmark went a perfect 5-0, capping off the tournament with 2-1 victory over Norway to clinch top spot. Petersen was named the player of the game in the contest, and made a late game, stellar glove-hand save to ensure Demark got the ‘W’.
“Of course there were some butterflies before the game, as it was an exciting and very important game” said Petersen. “But you try not to worry. You trust how you got there, and that you’ll have a successful game.”
Other results saw Denmark beat Kazakhstan 5-2, stop France 4-1, edge Belarus 4-3 in overtime, and stomp on host Hungary 9-1.
Not unexpectedly, Petersen’s stats were the best among goaltenders in the tournament. He posted a .936 save percentage along with a 1.60 GAA. He only allowed eight goals in five tournament games.
This is the second time Petersen has taken part in this tournament, though he saw much more ice time this year.
“I was in this last year in Finland, though I didn’t get much playing time,” he said. “But it was a great experience. This year was one of the biggest events I’ve been in.”
His father and coach, Erik Petersen, kept up on the action from Debrecen, Hungary via his computer, and said the calibre of hockey roughly compares to that of the MJHL, though of course the players are all less than 18 years of age.
“Lasse told me the level was very close to that of our league,” said Erik. “It was a more controlled game. It wasn’t as physical, and they try to move the goaltenders before they shoot, so the number of shots he faced was a little lower than what he was used to in the MJHL.”
Denmark has now moved up in the under 18 men’s hockey division, and at last winter’s World Junior Hockey Championship, Denmark was the darling of the tournament, remaining in the top tier pool after their strongest showing ever. The Stampeders’ bench boss, who coached for many years in Denmark prior to returning to Canada two seasons ago, says an overhaul in how they develop hockey talent is starting to pay dividends.
“They started a program eight years ago where they combined the hockey with the school – and it wasn’t just hockey, it included soccer and other sports,” he said. “You could opt into a special school in Grade 7, and instead of Physical Education, you could play hockey.
“So they would be practicing hockey instead of taking Phys Ed, and then there would be the normal hockey, which usually included four practices a week,” he added. “So kids would be getting seven practices a week, plus two to three dry land sessions. You do that from Grade 7 to Grade 12 and you’re basically running a professional program.”
With a smaller population, Erik Petersen said this program allows Denmark to compete with larger countries, and so far it looks like its working.
Following his performance in this tournament, Lasse Petersen’s stock is clearly on the rise. And there is the potential the young net minder might find himself courted by teams at a higher level and that he won’t be back with the Stampeders next season.
His coach and father has no mixed feelings about that possibility – and that goes for all players on the Stampeders.
“I don’t have any mixed feelings – anytime I coach a player, and if they can move onward and upward, then that’s what I’m here to do,” said Erik Petersen. “If their goal is to play at the highest level next year – whether that’s the USHL, the WHL, or going to college early – that’s just something we have to deal with here in the MJHL.
“And I’m here to move the players onward and upward.”
Lasse Petersen said if those chances present themselves, he’ll look at them. But his focus will remain on working hard and playing his best on whatever team he’s on this fall.
“I had a great team in front of me in Hungary so I wasn’t tested that much, but you never know (if other teams are interested),” he said. “I’m just going to control what I can control, keep working hard, and see where that takes me.”