Group play at the 2018 IIHF World Championship wrapped up on Tuesday. In the last game ahead of the eight-team playoff stage, Denmark – the host country – needed a win to advance. Their opponents from Latvia were in the same position.
Andris Dzerins scored 9:14 into the first period, and an arena filled with nearly 11,000 spectators never had the opportunity to cheer for a game-tying goal. Latvia advanced with a 1-0 win. The tournament came to an end for the Danes, although fans will continue to watch the other countries play down until this year’s winner is determined on Sunday.
The finish must have been a letdown for Patrick Russell and his teammates after it had appeared for several days that everything was falling into place for Denmark.
The former Waterloo Black Hawks forward is unlikely to ever forget the experience. It’s not the first time Russell has put on his native colors during international competition. Last spring, he scored a goal against Slovakia in 4-3 shootout win while skating in all seven of Denmark’s games during the event. He played for the national junior team twice, including serving as captain in 2013. Russell even appeared internationally for Sweden (sort of) and against the Black Hawks during the 2012 Junior Club World Cup in Russia while he was a member of Linkopings.
Yet the chance to represent your home country at the highest level, IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY, is something many athletes never have the chance to do, while others may get the opportunity just a few times at most.
Hockey has taken Russell far from Denmark. After moving across the Baltic to Sweden for much of his teenage years, he played his final season of junior hockey in Waterloo. During the winter of 2013/14, he led the Black Hawks with 29 regular season goals and Waterloo claimed the Anderson Cup.
That created the opportunity to attend St. Cloud State. The Huskies twice reached the NCAA tournament during Russell’s two seasons. As a sophomore, he averaged a point-per-game.
The Edmonton Oilers had seen enough. Edmonton signed the undrafted then-23-year-old. Russell has spent the last two years with the Oilers’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors. From 2016/17 to this past winter, he boosted his goals (eight up to 14) and points (17 to 27), while slicing his plus/minus differential from -8 to -1.
In both of his years with Bakersfield, the Condors missed the Calder Cup playoffs, but that opened up the opportunity for Russell to appear for Denmark.
This looked like it might be the year for the Danes to deliver their best-ever finish in the World Championships. After coming in eighth two years ago and in 2010, Denmark opened with a shootout win against Germany on May 4th. Losses to the United States and Canada might have fallen in with expectations from the experts, but Russell’s team stunned Finland 3-2 last Wednesday. Follow ups versus Norway and Korea set up the vital game against Latvia.
With his run at the World Championships now completed, the next question to be settled is where Russell will play next. His two-year, entry-level contract with the Oilers ended when Bakersfield finished their AHL schedule, making Russell a restricted free agent this summer.
Whether he returns to the Edmonton organization or finds another new part of the world to explore, there’s no doubt that his friends in Waterloo and St. Cloud and Bakersfield, as well as his countrymen in Denmark, will continue to cheer him on.
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