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Danish For Nerves

Sunday, 15.04.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
Vancouver Canucks
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Danish For Nerves
You may be able to guess at the meaning of the Danish word nervøs.

Here's a hint: Jannik Hansen was feeling that way for Game 2 Friday against the Dallas Stars-his first in a Canuck uniform and first in the National Hockey League.

In addition to keeping his line assignments straight, the 21-year-old Dane had one thought as he stepped onto the ice before 18,000 screaming fans at General Motors Place.

"Just don't throw up pizza or anything," he said.

Hansen, the first-ever Danish hockey player to suit up for an NHL playoff game, was called up, with Nathan Smith, from the Manitoba Moose to fill the lineup holes left by injuries to Matt Cooke (day to day with a groin strain;) and Alex Burrows (back for Game 3 after a head injury).

Speaking a day after his team's 2-0 loss to the tight-checking Stars, head coach Alan Vigneault took his measure of the young winger.

"I thought he had a lot of energy, competed hard in his one-on-one situations," Vigneault said. "You could see a lot of skill and some good speed, which, in this series, is obviously something that we need."

The big crowd at GM Place was hungry for a win and a 2-0 series lead over the Stars. It gave Hansen butterflies. By his reckoning, it took him a couple of shifts to tune out the noise.

"It was overwhelming, being out there," said Hansen. "A little shaky hands, maybe."

"After I got into it I forgot the crowd and the importance of the game and started to play," he said. "It got a little better."

Denmark isn't known for its hockey players. While its neighbors Sweden and Finland have produced elite-level hockey talent for many years, Denmark has been viewed, rightly, as a backwater. In 2006, the Scandinavian nation was ranked 14th by the International Ice Hockey Federation-just behind Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and, to be fair, ahead of Japan, Great Britain, and Israel.

Denmark isn't yet officially on the hockey map, but it is on the rise. The league's only other Dane, Frans Nielsen, plays on Long Island, but a handful more are sprinkled throughout the minor leagues. The most prominent is Lars Eller, an 18-year-old prospect who may be selected in the first round in the 2007 Entry Draft.

It's too soon to say whether Jannik Hansen's call-up from Manitoba will go down as a succes (more Danish), but he's impressed the Vancouver Canucks coaching staff.

"He did real well," head coach Alan Vigneault told reporters after Saturday's optional skate. "He was one of our better offensive players on the ice last night."

Obviously, the praise of a coach is nice, but there's another, subtler blessing that's come from Hansen's ascent to the big leagues: a sizable sale for an electronics dealer in the Copenhagen suburb of Herlev.

"My dad went shopping for a cable TV, so he was able to watch the game," said the young Hansen. "He is proud of me, even more than I am."

The nine-hour difference between Denmark and Canada's West Coast means that Mr. Hansen-himself a former Danish national team member-tunes in to Hockey Night in Canada at 4 o'clock in the morning. It also means that, for the time being, Jannik has to shut off his cell phone to get some sleep. If he didn't, he'd be swamped by calls from reporters and well-wishers back home.

If Hansen continues his excellent play, Vancouver fans will see more of him. Vigneault was confident enough in the young winger to increase his ice time during the third period on Friday, when the Canucks were scrambling to even the contest.

Hansen's speed, skill, and poise also won him time on the power play, a development that surprised him.

"I wasn't expecting that at all," he said. "Coming into the game I was just happy to be here and take whatever was coming my way."

In 64 games with the WHL's Portland Winter Hawks in 2005-2006, Hansen was second on his team in scoring, with 24 goals and 40 assists. In 12 playoff games, he had 13 points and 16 penalty minutes.

This year, after stepping up to the AHL's Moose, he's slackened off that pace slightly. In 72 games he recorded 12 goals and 22 assists, with a plus-three rating.