Denmark shocked the Czech Republic 2-1 in the first Olympic men’s ice hockey game in the nation’s history, on the first day of preliminary-round games in Beijing on Wednesday.
“This is a huge moment for Danish hockey. We’re not usually at the Olympics,” coach Heinz Ehlers said. “We’re so happy and proud right now.”
Denmark joined the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1946 and had never previously qualified for an Olympic men’s tournament. To make the cut in Beijing, the Danes pulled off an impressive upset: 2-0 over rival Norway in a qualification final in Oslo last August.
Goalie Sebastian Dahm made 39 saves in the win Wednesday, raising his arms in the air as his teammates mobbed him after the victory. He got some help at the end: Czech defenseman Tomas Kundratek shot a puck that dinged off the post to Dahm’s left as his team tried to find the equalizer with its net empty.
Markus Lauridsen and former NHL player Frans Nielsen had goals for Denmark. Lauridsen’s goal deflected off a Czech player. Nielsen’s goal came on a penalty shot at 17:23 of the first period, using a backhand, top-shelf move that was familiar to fans of his time with the New York Islanders and Detroit Red Wings.
The 34-year-old Dahm, who plays in Austria’s hockey league, was strong for the Danes. He continued a yearlong stretch of stellar play internationally for Denmark, including a .929 save percentage in the Olympic qualifying games.
The Czech Republic was considered a top-five team for a gold-medal bid. It falls to 0-1 in a group that includes the Russian Olympic Committee and Switzerland. The ROC opened with a 1-0 win over the Swiss earlier in the day.
Denmark is now tied atop that group.
“It’s not like we win here today and we think we’re Olympic champions,” Ehlers said. “We’re realistic and know that we have to work really hard and get a little bit of luck to win hockey games.”
Though it’s the first men’s hockey victory for Denmark in the Olympics, it’s not the country’s first. The Danish women earned their first win in Olympic history Monday with a 3-2 victory — also against the Czech Republic.