"I knew what I wanted to do."
One of the great things about sports is how it brings people together from around the world -- people who'd not otherwise interact on this planet of 7 billion people. As of this post we have players convening in Sweden and Finland for the annual IIHF World Championship, while one of the top names in the 2012 draft is a skilled prospect born in the U.S. when his Russian father was playing in North America.
You've got an underrated Slovenian star keying a playoff charge in Los Angeles and two Swiss pioneers at opposite ends of their career on Long Island. Thanks to the Internet, along with them come the fans from their native countries who follow them and share different perspectives on sites like this one.
What follows are some translated quotes from a sporten.dk profile of Frans Nielsen, translated by a Lighthouse Hockey reader who grew up a Bruins fan (forgive him) and moved to Denmark in the '90s. It's a nice window into Nielsen's upbringing and how he went from a relatively obscure hockey country to the NHL via Sweden, having been "a little scared" of going to Canada as a teenager.
Born To Be A Hockey Star
Frans Nielsen talks about his career, from junior hockey in Herning to the NHL
Since Google Translate doesn't always get the job done, we're sharing some illustrative and properly translated quotes that give another peek into Nielsen's background and development as a hockey player, and some of the strengths he showed as a young player that no doubt still help him today:
Nielsen talked about growing up on skates in Denmark:
"As far back as I can remember, I've loved to skate. And from the time I was five, when I started playing ice hockey in Herning, it's always been the best thing I've known," he says. "The idea of earning a living off of hockey came to me when I was about 12. I knew what I wanted to do."
Sporten.dk and agent each called him "the ambassador of Danish ice hockey." Nielsen talked about his early coaching, especially crediting his first coach, Peter Degn:
"I owe him a lot. He coached me between the ages of 5 and 11. I always played with kids that were older than me. They don't do that anymore, which is a shame. It worked for me," he says. "The most important thing in the early years is that it has to be fun to go to practice."
Telling how you hear that "it has to be fun to practice" sentiment no matter what country you're in, isn't it? Coaches, don't burn the kids out.
The article goes on to explain how Nielsen's Herning junior team started playing in tournaments in Sweden when he was 12:
"The scouts came to watch, and more and more clubs began to call. I got Bjarne Madsen as an agent when I was 16. One of the reasons I chose to play in Malmø (Sweden), when I was 17, was that it was so close to home. I've always been something of a comfort junkie," he laughs. "I was a little scared of going to Canada at that point, and I think I made the right decision. Sweden's a good place to learn. You're pushed to the limit in practice and in games. That pays off later."
Sporten.dk described Nielsen as a kid at games with his father as "silent, deeply focused, the boy followed the play intently, seeming to soak it all up." Nielsen's father was never his coach, but he soaked up quite a bit:
"When you're that young, you don't understand all the systems during a game. When my dad worked the rewind and fast forward, and explained what was happening, I started learning all the small things. 'Look what he's doing,' he'd say. I also remember him cursing -- which usually meant a Herning player had screwed up," he says.
The article also includes some biographical details (girlfriend, the big contract, life on Long Island, etc.), and includes a sidebar with some thoughts from those who have watched Nielsen develop, including:
On Frans Nielsen [sidebar]
Frans' mother, Hanne:
"...Frans hasn't changed. He's calm, humble and thoughtful, like he's always been. His success hasn't changed him."
Frans' father, Frits:
..."He's always been very serious and very driven. I'm not at all surprised that he's reached his goal. I remember when he was a kid, and we'd watch Herning's games on video, and he'd ask about the technical and tactical details and the small things that make a difference..."
Frans' agent, Bjarne Madsen:
"Frans is the Michael Laudrup* of ice hockey. Professional, engaged. A sight to behold on the ice and a great personality. Danish ice hockey couldn't find a better ambassador."
Note: Laudrup is a Danish football legend who starred at Barcelona ... and later moved to some other Spanish team.
These are translated excerpts of some of the quotes. The full original article is at sporten.dk here.
The Danish: Really the Canadians of Europe? (LHH look at Danish hockey)
Road to the Coliseum: Frans Nielsen (Isles official)
The Book on Frans Nielsen, and other Danish Hockey Players (interview with De Brød Isen author)