Skip to main content

No goaltender in the history of the National Hockey League had ever come from Denmark before Frederik Andersen.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Frederik Andersen is a one of a kind in the National Hockey League.

No goaltender in the history of the league had ever come from Denmark before the 27-year-old from Herning, a city of just under 50,000 people. Andersen's previously uncharted path began on the pads of his father Ernst, a long-time goaltender in the top Danish league.

"I remember being in the locker-room when he's sitting pretty much like me here," Andersen said from his stall in the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room, glancing happily into space as he recalled the image. "I would always try to sit on his pads or something like that."

"It's probably one of the better memories just to sit around (with) his pads."

But at that point, the NHL was literally a pipe dream for anyone who played hockey in Denmark.

Only five Danish players had even been drafted before Frans Nielsen, who became the first to crack the league in 2006. And so while Andersen may have watched Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy and Felix Potvin from afar growing up, no path yet existed for him to join them in the NHL. Even after he was drafted into the NHL (twice), Andersen still wondered if he'd end up in Sweden or some other league in Europe.

"No. No. No. Not at that time," Ernst Andersen said in a phone interview from Denmark when asked if he imagined his eldest child ever making the NHL. "It was not so easy to see that as a possibility."

The Andersens are a hockey-playing family from top to bottom, sort of like a Danish version of the Sutters.

Frederik's brother, Sebastian, and sister, Amalie, both play defence, the former locally in Denmark, the latter in a women's league in Sweden. Frederik's mother, Charlotte, also played as did a pair of uncles and a cousin. But it started with Ernst, who spent almost two decades in the crease before becoming the national junior team's goaltending coach, a role he holds to this day.

Ernst didn't intend for his son to play goal initially, he just wanted him to learn to skate. But when Frederik played with friends, he kept drifting back there anyway. The shots hurt and eventually Frederik decided he may as well as strap on the equipment and give goaltending a shot.

He watched whatever clips of the NHL he could get his hands on, but watching live was basically impossible given the six-hour time difference. Mostly, he just absorbed the game from his dad.

"At a young age he was probably my main goalie coach," Frederik says. "He would be the guy that helped me out."

Frederik would hang around the dressing room with his father and watch games in the stands with his grandfather, who had season tickets. Sometimes he'd come right up to the glass for a closer look, catching the tail-end of his father's career which included multiple Danish league titles.

Frederik doesn't remember much about how his father played, only that Ernst wasn't quite as tall as he was. Ernst says he stood up in the cage a lot more than his six foot four son, who follows the butterfly model typical of the modern goalie.

"I was very flexible," Ernst said. "So it was much more reaction."

Ernst knew his son might be pretty good soon after one of Frederik's first tournaments. Frederik realized he might be onto something when he attracted attention from national teams. He thought he might even make it over to Canada to play junior in the Western Hockey League, but that didn't work out.

Andersen was passed over twice in the NHL draft before he finally caught the attention of the Carolina Hurricanes in the last round in 2010. Looking at the club's depth chart, topped by Cam Ward, Andersen saw no realistic path to the NHL and never signed.

Another strong year for the Frederikshavn White Hawks in the Danish league was followed by a record-setting campaign in Sweden, one that saw Andersen break Henrik Lundqvist's Frolunda franchise record with eight shutouts.

"That was kind of where I was like, if I keep developing I can definitely have a chance to make it," Andersen said.

Intrigued, the Anaheim Ducks scooped him up with the 87th pick in 2012 and though the Ducks had options in goal, Andersen quickly signed for two years.

He became the first Danish goalie to ever play in the NHL on Oct. 20, 2013 appearing in relief of Jonas Hiller, fulfilling a reality never believed possible before in Denmark.

Danes are increasing their presence in the league with three players alone selected in the 2016 draft. Nikolaj Ehlers, one of the bright lights in Winnipeg, comes by way of Aalborg.

Still, the list of Danish NHLers is just 13 all-time, including Andersen, the one and only goaltender.

Ernst still watches every one of his games, waking up at 1 a.m. local time to catch 7 p.m. starts in Toronto. He no longer offers much goaltending advice to his son, who signed a rich five-year contract with the Leafs last summer. Instead, he's become simply a comforting presence to lean on.

"It's big here that he's the first goalie that's going (to the NHL)," Ernst said. "We are very proud about it."

Interact with The Globe