Denmark overcomes Austria
by Lucas AYKROYD|11 MAY 2024
Denmark's Frederik Storm (#9) slides the puck past Austrian netminder David Madlener (#31) for a first-period goal in a 5-1 Danish victory at the 2024 Worlds in Prague.

Denmark earned a big three points to kick off its 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship campaign, downing Austria 5-1 on Saturday in Prague.

Forward Joachim Blichfeld stepped up with two goals and an assist. Final shots favoured the Danes 34-17.

"We played a solid game," said assistant captain Patrick Russell. "I think we played the way we wanted to, and it showed out there. We were in good control. When we didn't turn it over, it was a good game. We scored on our chances. It's a nice way to start the tournament."

For both these teams, the overriding goal is to remain in the top division. Denmark has done so continuously since 2003. Austria – a longtime “elevator team” that alternated annually between the top division and Division I from 2005 to 2015 – dreams of staying up after finishing 11th in 2022 and 14th in 2023.

Assessing this loss, Austria's Peter Schneider said: "A lot didn't go the way we would have liked. Hard to explain. I felt like we weren't ready in terms of the battles or intensity. We weren't playing simple enough. Weren't moving our feet enough, probably weren't shooting enough, taking too many penalties."

Denmark has won four straight World Championship games against Austria, including previous scores of 4-3 (2005), 5-2 (2009), and 6-2 (2003). Last year in Tampere, forwards Niklas Andersen and Mikkel Aagaard set the pace with three points apiece.

The veteran-laden Danes – average age: 29 – wanted to limit time and space for Marco Rossi, the budding Minnesota Wild star. A 22-year-old centre who shone with 21 goals and 40 points in his NHL rookie season, the Austrian cooled off with just one goal in his last 11 regular-season games. Last year in his first Worlds, Rossi paced Austria with six points.

Rossi was in the sin bin for Denmark’s first power play as his teammates weathered the storm. But they couldn’t stop Markus Lauridsen from making it 1-0 at 13:19 with the sides at 4-on-4.

With Austrian starter David Madlener scrambling in his crease, the Danes got multiple whacks at the loose puck and Lauridsen converted on his second try. The 33-year-old is the younger brother of assistant captain and fellow blueliner Oliver Lauridsen, who is 35.

At 16:11, Frederik Storm exploited an Austrian defensive gaffe to make it 2-0 while shorthanded. After Madlener went behind the net and fed Rossi to start the breakout, the forechecking Storm, a 13-time World Championship participant, knocked the youngster down in front and swiped the puck past the goalie.

"We want to be aggressive on the penalty-kill forecheck, and the goalie doesn't have that many options to play the puck out," Storm said. "I kind of read that he was going to go to that guy, and I got a good angle on him where I could hit him and win the puck."

Manuel Ganahl gave Austria some life with 0:25 left in the period, floating a centre-point wrister past surprised Danish goalie Frederik Dichow.

In the middle frame, Denmark had the edge in play as the teams exchanged fruitless power plays. Coach Mikael Gath's troops bottled up Austria for stretches.

Blichfeld made it 3-1 at 18:54, as Christian Wesje found the Vaxjo Lakers attacker in the left faceoff circle for a rising one-timer with Leon Draisaitl-worthy velocity. It soared past Madlener on the short side.

"He knows he's a goal-scorer, and we obviously need him to score goals," Russell said of Blichfeld.

While both teams hit posts before the midway mark of the third, the momentum was undeniably with Denmark. At 13:44, Felix Scheel put the game out of reach with a top-shelf snipe from the left faceoff circle.


Storm loved the upbeat ambience with 15,719 fans on hand: "It's always a big experience in Prague. Amazing fans! In a game like this, maybe you don't expect that full arena. It felt like the crowd was really good. It's an amazing atmosphere."

Blichfeld made it 5-1 with a power-play rebound with 1:03 left. He led Denmark with five goals at the 2022 Worlds, and this performance is a good omen.

On Sunday, things only get tougher. Denmark battles defending champion Canada, while Austria takes on neighbouring rival Switzerland.

"It's going to be a different game than today, that's for sure," Storm said. "We're going to have to play our best defensively to have a chance. We haven't beaten the Canadians too many times in the past, but we've succeeded once [3-2 in 2022]. So we're going to do our best to make an upset."

Austria's lone win over Denmark was extremely lopsided, 25-1 in 1949. That was the Danes’ first Worlds, a true baptism of fire. They’ve come so far since those tough times. Even if making their third quarter-finals all-time (2010, 2016) here may still be a long shot, they've taken an important first step.

Austria vs Denmark - 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship