With Denmark’s shocking elimination from the 2022 World Championship, the end of an era in Danish hockey has come to a close, as national team mainstay Frans Nielsen, the first Dane to find success in the NHL, announced his retirement from the sport at the age of 38.
Starting his career with his hometown Herning Blue Fox in 2000, Nielsen would win a Danish Championship in his debut season, winning Rookie of the Year honours as well. Nielsen would his next five seasons in Sweden, four with Malmö and his final with Timrå in 2005-06, before making the jump to the NHL, joining the New York Islanders in 2006, four years after being drafted in the third round. The first Danish citizen to play in the NHL, Nielsen would spend fifteen seasons in North America between the Islanders and Detroit Red Wings, being named an NHL All-Star in 2017, and retiring as the highest scoring Dane in NHL history, with 167 goals and 473 points in 925 career games, over 100 points ahead of second place Nikolaj Ehlers. In order to compete at the Olympics, Nielsen would spend his final pro season with Eisbären Berlin of the German league, capturing the DEL Championship in his final season, bookending his professional career with league championships.
Nielsen first joined the Lions at the 2000 World Under-18 Division B Championships, debuting in the same Division for the World Junior squad in 2001. He first joined the senior team at the 2002 Division I World Championships, helping Denmark return to the Top Division for the first time since 1949, which thanks to stars like him, they have remained ever since. Nielsen would compete at nine Top Division World Championships (2003-07, 2010, 2012, 2018, 2022), helping Denmark to its best ever World Championship finishes in 2010 and 2016. After playing on Olympic qualifying teams in 2006 and 2018, Nielsen helped Denmark clinch their first Olympic berth in history in 2022, serving as an alternate captain and flag bearer in Beijing. Nielsen was also one of three Danes on the “Team Europe” squad at the 2016 World Cup Of Hockey that stunned Sweden en route to a surprising Silver medal finish.
Despite Denmark’s recent IHLC successes, Nielsen never captured the IHLC during his career; but due to his immense impact on Danish hockey, we have nevertheless chosen to feature his retirement despite his lack of IHLC success with the Lions. We wish Frans and his family the very best for his retirement and the things to come!
Photo Credit: Fredericia Dagblad – IIHF – HHOF – IOC