Usually the Danish flags that line the driveway leading to the country’s embassy would only be hung on Denmark’s Constitution Day or if the prime minister was coming. But Thursday was an exception.
This time, the extra flair welcomed the Capitals’ Lars Eller as about 200 guests gathered at the residence of the ambassador to celebrate the Danish hockey player. Two weeks ago in both the District and Denmark, Eller gained celebrity status overnight when he scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal and became the first Dane to hoist the Cup.
“We have a lot of events here and, to be honest, I have sometimes a hard time explaining to my team why this is a really, really important event and you need to do a lot of work,” the Danish ambassador, Lars Gert Lose, said to the crowd. “This is not one of them.”
At the gathering, which resembled a backyard party, Eller could not move through the crowd without frequently pausing for a photo, handshake or autograph. Kids wearing Capitals gear ran around the yard, while adults congregated in small groups buzzing with conversation. Fans enjoyed hot dogs, Danish treats and drinks with Eller-inspired names: #ALLCAPS, Eller Special and Winning Goal.
Among the Danish community members invited were guests from the Congressional Friends of Denmark Caucus and the American-Danish Business Council, along with important contacts at U.S. agencies, such as the Pentagon and the State Department. Lose said that of the many events hosted at his house, this celebration had some of the “highest level” attendees.
Lose called Eller’s path to this moment a fairy tale that couldn’t have even been written by Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author who wrote “The Little Mermaid” and “The Ugly Duckling.”
There was the way Eller flourished when Nicklas Backstrom was out with an injury and the drama when the Capitals were down 2-0 in their first-round playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets before Eller’s double-overtime goal kept Washington from tumbling into a 3-0 hole. The tale ended in storybook fashion, with Eller’s winner in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals yielding a spot in Denmark hockey history.
“I knew it from an early age that [no Danish player] had ever won it,” Eller said. “Now we’re here. It’s been a fantastic journey to this point.”
Back home in Rodovre, Denmark, Eller’s aunt organized a viewing party at a local movie theater, where Danes watched through the night and celebrated the winning goal after 5 a.m. Soon, Eller will join the festivities in his home town. He plans to bring the Cup to Rodovre during the 24 hours he gets to spend with the trophy.
“Usually when you win something, the time to get there is so long and the time to enjoy it is so short,” Eller said. “But this is a great tradition that the NHL has.”
Just 13 Danish-born athletes have played in the NHL, and hockey doesn’t rank among the three most popular sports in Denmark, where Lose said handball and badminton have a more prominent spot on the nation’s sport scene.
“I hope this can spark the sport,” Eller said. “And my wish and hope is the country will eventually end up with more players, more kids, more boys and girls picking up a hockey stick and a pair of skates instead of something else — and more rinks, of course.”
Just a couple of months ago, Lose said only those in the Danish hockey community knew of Eller and the other six Danes currently in the NHL. But with the world championships held in Denmark this May and Eller’s rise to fame, interest in the sport is poised to increase. The Danish prime minister tweeted about Eller’s accomplishment, and Eller said now there’s talk of planning a parade.
Eller isn’t sure the exact schedule of how he’ll spend his short time with the Cup, but he does know one place the trophy will travel: his home club. And there, Eller hopes kids will see the 35-pound, silver piece of proof that, yes, someone from this small nation can have his name etched on the Cup.
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