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Red Wings' loss is Denmark's gain

Nielsen will play in his hometown in his home country during the world championships

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings' loss will be Denmark's gain.

From May 4-20, Denmark will host the International Ice Hockey Federation's 2018 men's world championship for the first time.

Because the Wings did not make the playoffs, Frans Nielsen will be able to play in front of family and friends for his home country.

The games will be held in Copenhagen and Herning, the latter of which is Nielsen's hometown.

"Even in my hometown It's going to be very exciting," Nielsen said. "I don't think anyone ever thought we were going to get a big tournament like that in small Denmark. It's exciting. You're going to have friends and family right there. It's going to be different. Hopefully, it means a lot for Danish hockey, that more people can get the ice for the sport of hockey."

As of late February, they had already sold more than 250,000 tickets for the tournament.

"It seems like they've got a bit of a hockey fever coming there," Nielsen said. "You don't see that every day. It's good to see and hopefully we can get hockey even more on the map in Denmark so we can get even more kids to play."

Nielsen is one of just 13 players born in Denmark to play in the National Hockey League.

No Danish player has played more than Nielsen's 764 games.

"It's grown a lot," Nielsen said. "Just the fact that we are a country with 27 rinks and we've established ourselves in that group. We are starting to produce a lot of good NHL players, too. It's impressive what they do with the youth work back there. I think the next step for us is getting more rinks so more kids can play."

Most of those other players born in Denmark have followed Nielsen to the NHL.

There is hope that this tournament will attract more players to the sport so it can become as popular as soccer and swimming.

"There's for sure a little pressure on us, too," Nielsen said. "If we do well, you see that in other sports back home, even if they're not big sports for a country like Denmark that if the national team does good, the whole country kind of comes behind the team. That'll be great to see if we can do some damage. And hopefully it will help hockey.

"We've had a couple of tournaments where we would battle through to the quarterfinals and it'll be really big and you could feel the excitement from the whole country. Then you kind of get a month away from it and it dies out. So hopefully this will kind of get people to watch hockey even more and hopefully it can stay after the tournament."

On May 5, Nielsen will see coach Jeff Blashill and teammate Dylan Larkin on the other side as Team Denmark faces Team USA in the preliminary round.

"It's going to be interesting," Nielsen said with a smile.

As excited as Nielsen is to represent Denmark while playing in his home country, he would much rather be helping the Red Wings in a playoff series.

"Just the fact that we are out of it again so early, it's no fun," Nielsen said. "You miss some of the best part about playing. That feeling getting up in the morning, getting in the car, going down to the rink. You know it's a huge game. You've already got the butterflies going way before the game even starts. You kind of loose that feeling except for early on, the home opener. You want that down the stretch. You want that feeling. That's why you play, to play in those big games that mean a lot. It's not fun when you are (not) in that position.

"I do think that we kept working, we kept battling until the end, even though we had nothing to play for. That shows us that there is some character in this group. But I really hope that everyone feels the same way, that this wasn't fun."

The Wings finished the season 10-14-13 in one-goal games.

"There was a lot of those games, but it's not just pushing a button and you're going to win those games," Nielsen said. "When you lose that many of them, there's definitely something that we've got to figure out. It's a tight league. It doesn't matter who you play, you definitely feel like you have a chance to win against any team, and you can lose to any team. It's a tight league and that's the consistent we've got to figure out here.

"Keep finding out about it and you never know next year. Maybe we come in those games and we win five of them, and then you get that feeling back that if we play this way, we're just gonna keep going and win games. I think we are beating ourselves right now. We are finding ways to lose instead of winning."

One area the Wings will certainly need to improve is scoring more.

Of all the playoff teams, the Anaheim Ducks had the fewest goals with 235, 18 more than the Wings' 217.

The Tampa Bay Lightning led the league with 296 goals.

"You do look around the room and see all the talent and all the good players we have and sometimes you do wonder why we don't score more," Nielsen said. "I think we figured it out a little bit at the end and hopefully it's not just that we were out of it and sometimes you play a little more freely maybe and don't squeeze your stick because there's not too much on the line. Hopefully we can move forward with this and have a little confidence more that a lot of guys can score, and take it with us to the beginning of next year."

The one thing that Nielsen never doubted was the team's effort and commitment.

"The way we competed, even being out of it, and the character in this group, keeping going, even when times were really tough," Nielsen said. "If there's anything we should be proud of this year it should be that."

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