Almquist keeping Danish roots in drive to NHL Draft
Marcus Almquist is unlike most young men in Denmark. Instead of watching Danish fodbold legends like Peter Schmiechel or Christian Eriksen play when he was young, he grew up idolizing Sidney Crosby.
His love for hockey began at a very young age.
His older sister, Michelle, plays hockey and has represented Denmark internationally. Just like Michelle, Marcus loved hockey from the moment he put his skates on when he was two-years-old.
“I was on the blue line and [my dad] was on the other blue line and he would try and get me to skate over with candy,” he said, explaining the first time he stepped on the ice. “I [have] loved it more and more every time.”
The 2021 draft-eligible grew up in Rødovre, a town of 40 000 just west of Copenhagen. He has attracted scouts’ attention for a number of years now, playing in the Danish U20 league as a 13-year-old, the World Under-18 D1A Championship as a 15-year-old and the World Junior D1A Championship as a 16-year-old.
In order to continue his development, he decided to make the move to Sweden, following in the footsteps of current Danish NHL players Lars Eller, Frederik Andersen and Frans Nielsen. Two years ago, he joined the HV71 system.
Leaving his home country was not a difficult decision for him to make once he visited the team’s facilities in Jönköping. Surrounded by four rinks, two gyms and machines set up to practice shooting and puckhandling, Almquist was blown away.
“It seemed too good to be true,” he said.
The HV71 senior team is full of NHL prospects like goaltender Hugo Alnefelt, Zion Nybeck and Emil Andrae. Almquist says they aren’t shy when they cross paths, having been in the same place as him just a season ago.
“There isn’t that much of a distance between the men’s team and the junior team,” Almquist said.
“Everybody says hi or good morning at the rink.”
With the J20 season ending prematurely, the 17-year-old has been practicing with the men’s team, following a brief stint in the Metal Ligaen back home in Denmark. He says they have made him feel at home in Jönköping, where he lives on his own.
“[The older guys] have been really helpful, on and off the ice,” Almquist explained.
In the two years he has spent across the pond, Almquist has learned to speak fluent Swedish, his third language on top of English and Danish. While his teammates have helped them learn their native tongue, Almquist says he has trouble trying to teach them his.
“They say I sound like I have a potato in my mouth when I speak Danish,” he says with a laugh.
Although the country has produced more NHLers in recent years, the popularity of ice hockey in Denmark still pales in comparison to soccer – the country’s national sport. In fact, the country’s national website makes no mention of hockey as a Danish pastime.
But Almquist insists that its popularity is increasing.
“Soccer is probably bigger in Denmark, but hockey is growing more and more,” said the 17-year-old.
The country is currently enduring its greatest period of success in producing hockey players. Just three years ago, Eller became the first player from Denmark to win a Stanley Cup. The duo of Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nikolaj Ehlers, that secured the country its first ever win at the World Junior Championships in 2015, are now two of the best players in the NHL.
That little boy rushing to the blue line for candy 15 years ago might soon join them.