International Ice Hockey Federation

Danes remember Ostrava

Danes remember Ostrava

2004’s most talked about play

Published 05.05.2015 15:46 GMT+2 | Author John Sanful
Danes remember Ostrava
What if Denmark had lost to Japan in Ostrava at the 2004 Worlds? Luckily for them, they didn't thanks to a Japanese own goal that became Denmark's game winner. Pictured: Nicolas Monberg celebrates a goal in front of Japanese goalie Yutaka Fukufuji. Photo: Grigory Dukor / Reuters
It was unlike any play in World Championship history. Among the goals, assists, hits, wins and losses, Nobuhiro Sugawara earned a place in tournament history.

He is remembered not for what will end up in the record books but for what he did not mean to do. 

At the 2004 IIHF World Championship, also held here in Ostrava at this very same CEZ Arena, Denmark was able to avoid the Relegation Round, thanks to a timely third period goal.

The box score for the final Denmark goal reads: 

43:09              Denmark       Bo Nordby Andersen       Game Winning Goal

What actually happened was lost in the stat line. 

“It is one of those games you never forget,” Danish captain Morten Green said. “It was a must win for us and we played a really shaky game. But as we all recall, that was a game to remember.”

Green along with Dan Jensen and Kim Staal were members of that 2004 team who are here eleven years later still representing the national team and among its core contributors.

Denmark’s appearance in Ostrava that year was its third consecutive World Championship. The team was still relatively inexperienced at the top level of tournament play and viewed as one of those squads that could be a candidate for relegation. Sitting in Group C with Russia, Sweden and Japan, the challenge of going through to the Qualifying Round was daunting.

All efforts would have to be placed on the game they stood the best chance of winning; and that was against Japan.

Coming into their April 27 contest against Japan, Denmark played two tough losses to elite hockey nations Sweden and Russia. In both games they were outscored 11-3. Japan, on the other hand, had played one game and that was a 5-1 loss to Tre Kronor. After playing Denmark, Japan would have to take on Russia the next day; a prospect that held little to no hope of them winning.

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The winner of that game would automatically avoid relegation. Under the old World Championship format the team that finishes in the bottom position of each group would go to the Relegation Round while third-place teams move into the Qualifying Round.

In the first period both teams traded two power play goals apiece. Jesper Damgaard opened scoring less than three minutes into the game. Japan countered with two goals of their own to take the lead until Ronny Larsen tied it with twenty three seconds remaining in the period off a pass from Dan Jensen. 

Thirty-eight seconds into the second period Takayuki Kobori put his team ahead once more. It was one of those games where both Denmark and Japan had equal scoring opportunities and the game was anything but a defensive struggle.

“It was definitely not one of our better games,” Jensen said in remembering the game. “We’d played a really bad game up to that point.”

Seven minutes later, Kim Staal tied the game where it stood until 3:09 on the third period.

Bo Nordby-Andersen had possession of the puck to the left side of the Japanese goal. He sent a backhand pass in front of the net hoping Green or Jens Nielsen, who were both near the goal, would be able to get to it and generate a scoring chance.

In that moment, Sugawara split between both skaters to the front of the net, putting him in front of Green to possibly intercept the pass or clear it away. Instead, Sugawara inexplicably shot the puck in his own empty net with goaltender Yutaka Fukufuji out of position.

Realizing what he’d done, Sugawara raised his hands, his stick went flying off into the air and he crumpled into a ball on the ice. As one of the Danes on ice as it was happening at the time, Green remembers general confusion.

“Japan had us on the hook there and then all of a sudden one of their defencemen fires it into their own net!” Green remembers. “We were so surprised. We did not know what to do. First we thought ‘what’s going on here are we going to celebrate this goal?’”

It took a while for everyone to process, including everyone on the ice, spectators, officials, media and this writer who was there when it happened.

“Everybody was so shaken up at that point, trying to understand what just happened,” Green said. “We would win on an own goal. It was a lucky goal for us.”

And with that, the Danes went on to earn a place in the Qualifying Round. Japan would lose 6-1 to Russia and with a 15th-place finish overall after the Relegation Round, Japan was relegated to Division I where they have remained ever since.

Since that World Championship, Denmark has stayed in the top division throughout. They would find extraordinary success over the years, particularly at the 2010 IIHF World Championship when they finished in eighth place.

But now being back in Ostrava brings back so many memories of that tournament and for those followers of international hockey - the World Championships specifically - Denmark-Japan provided the best “where were you when that happened” moment.

“When young guys join the national team they always they like to hear that story,” Green said. “I can’t believe it has been 11 years. It reminds us how old we’re getting.” 


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