Herning, Denmark is what Rasmus Ankersen would describe as a “sleepy town” of 50,000 people. But it’s one with a rich background in sports, and one that has an incredible tie to the NHL.
You’ve probably heard of current and former NHLers Frederik Andersen, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nicklas Jensen, Frans Nielsen, and Peter Regin. You may not know that all five came out of that “sleepy town.”
Ankersen, who is Chairman of the Danish Superliga’s FC Midtjylland and co-director of football at newly-promoted Premier League side Brentford FC, didn’t realize what his hometown had produced until he was visiting with a friend several years ago. After writing a book called “The Gold Mine Effect,” which saw him travel the world to explore regions that produced high-level athletes, little did he know he had one in his own backyard.
In the documentary, ‘The Hockey Miracle in the Middle of Nowhere,’ Ankersen explores Herning’s hockey history and how it managed to produced five NHL players.
“For many of them, because they had fathers who played hockey, it just was not a choice really,” Ankersen recently told NBC Sports. “It’s just what you did. I would say that hockey was such a strong thing in Herning during [the late 1980s/early 1990s] that if you had the best athletic talent, you became a hockey player. You didn’t become a soccer player at the time. I think it’s different today, but at that time it was like that.”
The local hockey team, the Herning Blue Fox, has won nearly 20 Danish league titles and all five of the town’s NHL players played for them at one point. The players also had connections beyond their own careers. The fathers of Regin, Nielsen, and Andersen all played together. Regin and Jensen grew up in a split-house. The Regins and Nielsens would go on vacations together. Their journeys intermingled with one another.
Nielsen’s debut makes an impact
As the Blue Fox had success, the sport experienced a growth in the town. When Nielsen made his debut with the Islanders in 2017, it had an effect.
“One thing I would mention is the proximity to role models,” Ankersen said. “For Herning it was Frans that paved the way for the other guys. What happens when one guy makes it is that all these other guys then say I know him, I know his family. He lives just down in that house. If he can do it, why can’t I? So it goes from someone you watched on TV to feeling like a real possibility. You can see that effect in all these places. There’s like an ice break and the rest follows.”
Andersen, Bjorkstrand, and Nielsen are still active NHL players. Peter Regin recently joined HC Ambrì-Piotta of Switzerland after six seasons playing with the KHL’s Jokerit with Jensen.
Herning has what Ankersen says is an “entrepreneurial spirit.” It may be a small town in the middle of Denmark, but the “will over skills” motto rings clearly.
“There’s a little bit of Las Vegas over Herning,” Ankersen said. “Like, you go over this road in the middle of nowhere and then you see a town. It’s not as spectacular as Vegas, but anything is possible there.”
The Hockey Miracle in the Middle of Nowhere is available on Vimeo and Gumroad. It will be on iTunes and Google Play later this summer.
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.