It didn’t take Frans Nielsen long to find a new place to play. Bought out of his contract last week by the Detroit Red Wings, Nielsen is proving that you can go home again. He’s suiting up for Denmark in the IIHF qualifying tournament for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
In Thursday’s opening game, Nielsen dished out an assist. The Danes edged Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings and Slovenia 4-3. Denmark has never qualified for the Olympic Games in men’s hockey. The Danes are battling in this four-team group along with South Korea and hosts Norway from one available spot at the Beijing Games.
Olympic qualifying is underway, and #NHLJets forward Nikolaj Ehlers had a big impact in Denmark's 4-3 win over Slovenia.
Ehlers scored the game's opening goal, then the eventual game-winner.https://t.co/KokzfkseLW
— Mitchell Clinton (@MitchellClinton) August 26, 2021
There’s another familiar name on the Danish staff. Andreas Lilja, a defenseman who was part of Detroit’s 2007-08 Stanley Cup-winning team, is an assistant coach for Denmark. A name not on the Danish roster is defenseman Malte Setkov. He was selected 100th overall by the Wings in the 2017 NHL entry draft and currently plays for Malmo Redhawks in the Swedish League.
South Korea is being coached by former Grand Rapids Griffins assistant coach and ex-NHL defenseman Jim Paek.
Jurco Playing For Slovakia
Bratislava is hosting another four-team qualifier to determine a spot in the Winter Games. The host Slovakians opened with a 2-1 win over Austria. Former Wings forward Tomas Jurco, like Nielsen currently without a club team for the 2021-22 season, is suiting up for the Slovaks. So is goaltender Patrik Rybar of KHL club Dynamo Minsk, who spent the 2018-19 AHL season with Grand Rapids. Rybar’s father Pavol played goal for Slovakia at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games.
Belarus and Poland are also in this group.
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) August 26, 2021
The third four-country tourney is based in Latvia. Along with with the host country, Italy, Hungary and France are vying for one spot at the Beijing Olympiad. Greg Ireland, who coached in Grand Rapids from 2003-07, is coaching the Italian team. Jimmy Howard, Valtteri Filppula, Niklas Kronwall and Jiri Hudler were among the future Red Wings playing in GR during Ireland’s tenure.
Italy lost 6-0 to Latvia in their opener. Michigan State Spartans Budapest-born forward Kristof Papp is playing for the Hungarians, who were 5-3 losers to France in their first game. Popp played youth hockey in Detroit for Belle Tire.
Canada, the USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany already earned spots in the 12-country men’s Olympic hockey tournament. China gets a spot as the host nation.