By Jen Sharpe
According to 81-year-old Martin Svenningsen, "nothing bad has ever come from Denmark." While that may be a sweeping statement, you won't hear any objections from the Manitoba Moose.
For over 20 years, Danish-born Svenningsen has held a part-time position with the Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose, assisting hockey operations and security whenever called upon. At the onset of the 2006-07 season, the Moose welcomed a second Dane to the team, hoping to see a significant on-ice contribution from the offensive-minded 21-year-old Jannik Hansen
So far, so good, says Moose GM Craig Heisinger.
"I first saw Jan at the Canucks training camp last year, but he was injured most of the time. Although I didn't notice much of him, Alain (Vigneault, then coach of the Manitoba Moose and current coach of the Vancouver Canucks) told me that even though he's hurt, he's a guy to watch."
"He's got a lot to learn," Heisinger adds, "but he's fit in really well so far."
As Denmark's seventh-ever NHL draft pick and one of only three pro-hockey exports (including Frans Nielsen of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Kim Staal of the Milwaukee Admirals), Hansen is a rare prospect with an entire nation of hockey fans supporting him. Hailing from a country with only 18 rinks, Hansen's progression from Denmark's senior men's league to a season with the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks and finally a spot in Manitoba's AHL line-up is impressive.
According to Hansen, Denmark is "very limited in where you can play hockey. There are probably four or five sports more popular than hockey in Denmark."
Refusing to leave his homeland for Sweden or Finland-where junior hockey programs are more developed-a teenage Hansen opted to move up a level and play in Denmark's senior men's league.
"I stayed in Denmark because I got the chance to play senior hockey instead of junior hockey," Hansen explains. "That was better for me, because I could develop by playing against men instead of boys."
The Canucks organization saw potential in the 6-foot, 176-pound Dane and selected him as their ninth choice in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. "I wasn't expecting [to get drafted], but you always hope for it, and I was happy that it happened," Jan says. "When I got drafted, that really brought me a step closer to being able to play over here."
Last season, Hansen transitioned to the North American style of play and spent a season with the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks, tallying 24 goals, 40 assists, and 67 penalty minutes in 53 games. In the playoffs, Hansen added seven goals and six assists in 12 games.
The move to play in Portland, Hansen says, was a relatively easy transition.
"It wasn't that bad, because they had me stay with a billet so I didn't really have to take care of anything. You get to stay at home and have your meals cooked and your clothes washed and everything. You could just concentrate on playing hockey, and it wasn't that hard of an adjustment. Just being away from family and friends was hard," he admits.
Like a lot of young players, Hansen's jump from the WHL to the AHL has been an even bigger adjustment. According to Heisinger, Hansen had to quickly "learn to become a pro. You don't have a family taking care of you, so you're out on your own. All those little things-like dry-cleaning-that you never had to worry about are suddenly put on your plate."
Though his plate is now fuller than it ever was, the 21-year-old is eager to make the most of his time with the Moose.
"Right now I'm just taking it one day at a time to make the most of this experience," Hansen says. "We have a great team here and I'm so thankful to have the opportunity to play."
And what does Mr. Svenningsen think about having a second Dane in the organization? Although they were born under the same flag and speak the same language, the jovial retiree admits it's hard to compare his arrival to Manitoba in 1950 with Hansen's pro-hockey experience.
"It's different for him," Svenningsen explains. "He's a hockey player, which makes it a little easier because he knows exactly what he's here to do. We didn't learn English in school but he did, so that makes it easier for him too."
Though the generation gap between the two men is obvious, the elder Dane doesn't hesitate when asked if Hansen is his favourite Moose player. "Yeah," Svenningsen says with a smile. "Zinger (Heisinger) did tell me that he's a good player, but I already knew that because nothing bad has ever come from Denmark."