If it seems Danes are taking over the Island sports scene, it’s because they might well be. Less than a week after Pacific FC of the pro Canadian Premier League announced 25-time capped Danish international Michael Silberbauer as the inaugural head coach in franchise history, the Victoria Royals signed their 2018 import-draft selection, Phillip Schultz.
It was only a formality as Schultz, also a Danish international and who represented his country at the 2018 world junior hockey championships in Buffalo, had committed to the Royals as soon as they selected him in June. He will be skating when main camp opens Monday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
The week’s influx of Danes into headline-making Island sports news did not go unnoticed by those making it.
“As a [former] football professional and national team player, I certainly know of Michael Silberbauer, but have never met him,” said Schultz.
“That’s because, in Denmark, it is football [soccer], handball, badminton, and then maybe ice hockey.” But much like Canada in soccer, with occasional breakout stars such as Owen Hargreaves and Alphonso Davies, secondary hockey nations such as Denmark and Germany do produce one-offs, such as Jannik Hansen or Leon Draisaitl.
Schultz hopes to be one. You always dream of the highest level, said the six-foot, 195-pound forward. In hockey, that’s the NHL. Schultz, 18, was ranked by Central Scouting as 106th overall among European skaters for the 2018 NHL draft, but was not selected.
Unperturbed, he will go about trying to realize his pro dreams as a free-agent prospect. He has already experienced playing against men in the Metal Ligaen, the top Danish pro league, with five goals, 12 points and 53 penalty minutes in 40 games last season as a rookie with his hometown Rodovre Mighty Bulls.
“I felt this [playing major-junior in North America] was the best opportunity to develop my game,” said Schultz.
International play also beckons. Watching Denmark play soccer in the 2018 World Cup in Russia — even though the Danes lost a round-of-16 heartbreaker on penalty kicks to eventual finalist Croatia — whetted Schultz’s appetite to again don his national-team hockey jersey. He appeared as one of only three 17-year-olds on the Danish team at the 2018 world juniors in Buffalo, which is an Under-20 tournament. As a likely pick for the Danish team at the 2019 world junior tournament in Victoria and Vancouver, Schultz won’t have to go far. He might have even been able to stay on Blanshard Street, but the luck of the draw has Denmark playing in Group A at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Group B will be based at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
“But I am hoping Denmark plays one of the two quarter-final games that are scheduled for Victoria,” said Schultz.
With all of Canada’s games, pool and playoff, to be played at Rogers Arena, Schultz knows he and Denmark would have a built-in cheering section of Royals fans.
The Royals had a built-in comfort level when they chose Schultz 38th overall in the 2018 Canadian Hockey League import draft, mainly because Victoria assistant coach J.F. Best has been a consultant to both the Danish U-20 and U-18 teams.
Schultz was the captain and leading scorer for Denmark at the U-18 world championships with four goals and six points in five games. International play in North America served a useful purpose in introducing him to the smaller ice surface he will play on with the Royals in the Western Hockey League. “I’ve learned it’s a lot quicker game on the smaller surface,” said Schultz. “I am a playmaker who can also use my size to hit people and forecheck.”
Despite the preponderance of more popular sports in his homeland — father Jesper played soccer and mother Kamilla handball — young Phillip Schultz grew up at the local rink because his grandparents worked there.
“I think I could skate before I could walk,” he said, uncannily echoing what is more of a Canadian growing-up narrative.
“I was a mascot [young players accompanying the pros onto the ice] for my local team.”
Now, the mascots will accompany him when he steps onto the ice for Royals games. Each CHL team is allowed two imports. Forward Igor Martynov, who represented Belarus in the 2018 world juniors in Buffalo, is returning to the Royals and will be Victoria’s other import player this season.
Royals main training camp runs Monday and Tuesday at the Memorial Centre, with the Blue-White intrasquad game Wednesday night, and the first WHL exhibition game Friday in Kelowna against the Rockets.