Denmark goaltender Mads Sogaard knows every win is vital in the group stage of the world junior championship.
The Danes went winless in the round-robin at last year’s championship in Buffalo. That left them in last place in their group and playing in the relegation round with their spot for this year’s tournament on the line.
They could have been watching in 2019 instead of participating in Vancouver if it wasn’t for their relegation-round victory over Belarus, keeping Denmark around at least another year while the Belarusians were demoted a level.
“It was a goal of ours to make the quarter-finals, that’s our goal every year, and it didn’t work out,” said Sogaard, who was beaten 11 times on 41 shots in Denmark’s 14-0 loss to Canada to open the 2019 tournament on Wednesday.
“When the first goal doesn’t work out, you have to set a new one and the next one was stay up and don’t go down to the lower division, still be one of the top 10 countries in the world.”
The world junior championship went from an eight- to 10-team tournament in 1996, with the best countries in the world divided into two groups for preliminary-round action. The top four in each advance to the quarters and are guaranteed a spot the upcoming year regardless of their final placement among the eight.
When the majority of eyes are turned to the playoff round, the teams that finish last in each division meet up for a best-of-three relegation.
Denmark beat Belarus to stay in the top division for the fifth straight year. Meanwhile, Belarus now has to earn its way back by winning the same Division 1, Group A tournament the Danes did in 2014.
“We just went into it as a game we had to win, we went in and did our best and it turned out pretty good,” Sogaard said about taking the best-of-three 2-0. “Obviously it’s exciting we get to be apart of this tournament as well. It’s a showcase for everybody and something everyone looks forward to.”
The 18-year-old Sogaard is from Aalborg, a city that’s produced one NHLer in Nikolaj Ehlers. Sogaard, who stands 6-foot-7 and plays for the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers, is eligible for the upcoming NHL draft and hopes to make it two from his home city.
Last year, Sogaard went to the world juniors as Denmark’s third-string netminder. This year, he could be the difference between his country squeaking out the victory they need in the preliminary-round to guarantee staying alive for another year, or having to risk playing with demotion a possibility.
“Last year was a good learning experience, something I was happy and fortunate to do and I think it prepared me more for this year,” Sogaard said.
Kazakhstan won the Division 1, Group A tournament last year to earn promotion to this year’s event, taking the spot of Belarus. It’s been a long road back to the top division for the Kazakhstanis, who last participated alongside the elite in 2009.
Sometimes countries never makes it back.
Norway (2014), Austria (2010), Ukraine (2004), France (2002) and even Poland (1997) are just a few of the countries to be demoted and never play their way back to the elite division.
Germany won this year’s Division 1, Group A tournament in mid-December and will be back in the main tournament in 2020, while Belarus finished second and will have to try again.
There are a total of 42 countries that will be involved in six tiers of IIHF junior championships in the 2019 season that are attempting to work their way through the ranks one division at a time