To be the first from your home country... well that’s something completely different.
Canucks forward Jannik Hansen, like the majority of his team mates, saw a childhood dream come true Wednesday night when he stepped on to the ice for Game 1 of the Finals against the Boston Bruins.
Hockey fans in both markets were glued to their televisions to take in the 1-0 victory by the home team. But there were also many fans watching in Denmark, a country Hansen calls home and a nation that is seeing hockey grow every year.
“There are a lot of hockey fans in Denmark that are paying close attention to the games,” says Hansen of those who have been following the playoffs in the Scandinavian country. “It only helps they have a guy from the country who’s playing in the Finals now.”
Hansen is the first player from Denmark to skate in the fourth and final round of the NHL Playoffs.
The 25 year-old from Herlev, a suburb of the capital Copenhagen, has dressed in all 101 games the club has played this year (regular season and playoffs combined). His performance in the post season is starting to gain notoriety back home.
“They’re a little more interested now,” Hansen says of those in the sporting world in Denmark. “For the first time we’ve got a representative in the Finals, so it’s obviously drawing some attention.”
And Hansen hasn’t just been drawing attention overseas. His production as a third-line, two-way forward has people talking in Vancouver and in other areas who have been following the Canucks.
Case in point: his performance Wednesday in Game 1. Not only did he set up the winning goal by Raffi Torres late in the third period, but he finished off the game with three shots, two hits, and two blocked shots.
“Last night was obviously a great game where he used his skill set,” says Head Coach Alain Vigneault. “He’s real good when he plays with an edge. He played with an edge last night and that came in handy for us.”
With two goals and five assists to this point in the playoffs, Hansen is one of a handful of Danish-born players who play in the NHL. The likes of fellow forwards Freddy Meyer, Peter Regin, and Mikael Bodeker have all been watching Hansen from a distance. But there’s a defensemen, who hails from the same hometown as Hansen, who is keeping extra close tabs on this series, and might be pulling for the Canucks for a few different reasons.
“Lars Eller is in Montreal paying close attention after his season finished with the Canadiens,” comments Hansen. “He was quick to send me a text message after Game 1. He’d like to see us beat out the Bruins.”
When the Stanley Cup Finals started this week, hundreds of accredited media from around the world descended upon Vancouver. Television crews, radio reporters, and members of the print and electronic media from across North America and other European outlets began the journey of covering the Canucks and Bruins. Among the reporters is a young scribe from Denmark who is covering the series for his readers back home.
“In the last four years, six players from Denmark have made it to the NHL,” says Rasmus Nielsen, a writer with one of the major daily newspapers called Politiken. “Now all of a sudden, we have the first Dane ever in the Stanley Cup. It’s exciting.”
Nielsen says by no means is Hansen a household name in the Denmark sporting landscape. But his name is starting to catch on as the Canucks continue to have success.
“I think he’s becoming bigger at home,” Nielsen says of the Canucks forward. “He’s not as popular as some soccer players, but he is becoming a huge name in Denmark. Since his game has been developing and when he makes a performance like he did in Game 1, attention will just continue to grow.”