The National Hockey League may be done for the summer, but that doesn’t mean its star athletes are finished with competitive hockey until training camp. Yes, many local products dip into the annual organized tournament ‘Da Beauty League’ in Minnesota every summer, but this offseason has featured other significantly important matchups.
With the 2022 Winter Olympic Games fast approaching, the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation have been hosting the qualifiers for teams/countries on the ‘bubble’. Various NHL superstars from smaller hockey markets have been strutting their stuff in highly-competitive international play, with the end result of earning berths in the Olympics – should the NHL and the Players’ Association finally come to some sort of agreement.
With the top-eight countries from the IIHF’s men’s world ranking system from 2019 automatically earning berths into the Games, the host nation China will make it nine total teams. With three groups of four teams, three additional countries will be added to the mix via the Olympic Qualifiers, which have been running since November 7, 2019.
The final round of Olympic Qualifiers (August 26-29) has brought the 12 remaining hopeful nations together in Bratislava, SVK., Riga, LAT., and Oslo, NOR. Notable NHL stars in the running to make it to Beijing 2022 include Norway’s Mats Zuccarello, Latvia’s’ Rudolfs Balcers, Slovenia’s Anze Kopitar, France’s Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Antoine Roussel and Alexander Texier, and Denmark’s Nikolaj Ehlers, Frans Nielsen, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Mikkel Boedker.
With Hungary, South Korea, Italy, Slovenia and Austria having been eliminated from contention through Friday’s games, various wins and losses – some in the form of upsets – have worked their way into the standings.
Clinching scenarios for the remaining seven teams:
- Belarus: Must beat Slovakia, and have Poland lose to Austria
- Slovakia: Needs one point against Belarus
- Poland: Needs to win against Austria, and have Belarus beat Slovakia in Regulation
- France: Must beat Latvia
- Latvia: Must beat France
- Denmark: Must beat Norway
- Norway: Must beat Denmark
Leading the way for Denmark is Winnipeg Jets high-flying winger Nikolaj Ehlers. With four goals and eight points in just two games, the 25-year-old has taken a stranglehold of the Danish offence, helping contribute up and down the ice in both qualifiers thus far.
Midway through April of the 2020-21 NHL season, Ehlers opened up on the importance of being recognized as one of, if not the, most notable Danish players currently within the NHL.
— Carter Brooks (@CBrooksie84) April 16, 2021
After scoring two – including the game-winner – in Denmark’s 4-3 opener against Anze Kopitar and Slovenia, he helped his teammates knock South Korea out of the running with an impressive 11-1 victory that included 11-straight goals from the Danes after falling behind 1-0. Picking up two more goals and four assists, Ehlers had six shots on goal while putting up four power play points in the showing.
Facing off against Mats Zuccarello and the Norwegians on Sunday, Ehlers and Team Denmark can qualify for the Olympics for the first time in history with a victory. Despite going 2-0, the team will need to earn the win on the road in Oslo, Norway while going a perfect 3-0 in order to make that happen.