Former UNH player Nicoline Jensen suiting up for Denmark women’s hockey in Beijing

  • Former University of New Hampshire women’s hockey player Nicoline Jensen is an alternate captain on the Denmark women’s hockey team playing in its first Olympic tournament. Courtesy of UNH Athletics

UNH Insider
Published: 2/2/2022 6:02:35 PM
Modified: 2/2/2022 6:01:11 PM

Hers is a hockey pilgrimage that started in a suburb of Copenhagen, wound through a small town in western Vermont, detoured to Durham and then called for an extended layover in Jonkoping, Sweden.

Nicoline Jensen’s hockey travels mark a major milestone when she hits the ice for the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.

She’s a forward and alternate captain on the Denmark team that will make its first appearance in the Olympics. Denmark plays its first game on Friday against host China.

At 29, Jensen is the fourth oldest player on the team. She played two seasons with the University of New Hampshire women’s hockey team, finishing up with the 2015-16 season. Since then, she’s been playing professionally in Sweden.

“We’re so excited for Nico,” said UNH coach Hilary Witt, an assistant on the United States Olympic team in 2014. “She was a good fit for us. She was good in the locker room and good overall for the program. She was just a real good teammate and worked real hard and did everything she had to do. What a journey it’s been for her.”

Bill Bowes, who retired from his post as a UNH assistant coach after last season, shepherded Jensen through the United States portion of her hockey career.

He was the head coach at Castleton State, an NCAA Division III team on the rise in Vermont, and looking for players when he first heard about the young Danish skater who was coming to the states on recruiting visits to a couple of his team’s rivals, Elmira and Norwich.

Jensen agreed to visit Castleton as well and she, and her family liked what they saw and heard.

The Castleton admission folks didn’t understand the Denmark grading system, initially misread her academic transcript and were reluctant to accept her, Bowes said. Upon further review, they realized their mistake and she enrolled.

“I had a 3.0 club in the locker room and posted it there, and the first semester she just missed it and she hardly knew the language,” Bowes said. “She was so committed to being in the 3.0 club. She made it every other semester. She worked her butt off, just like she did in hockey.”

Jensen made an immediate impact on the ice and was named ECAC East Rookie of the Year her first season.

Committed to improving her game, she talked to Bowes about whether she might be able to play at the Division I level. He offered to look into the possibilities for her and after checking some, she decided she would spend another year at Castleton.

Jensen was a second-team All-American in her second year.

After the season, Witt – having just been named the coach at UNH – called Bowes, asking if he was interested in joining her and Stephanie Jones on staff. He accepted. Witt also offered Jensen an opportunity to play Division I.

Jensen was enjoying Castleton and her teammates and wasn’t sure she wanted to leave, but she decided in the end to transfer to UNH, where she continued to improve and evolve as a player, adjusting to the speed of moving up a level and to the style of play in the United States.

“In North America, there’s more situational decision-making depending on time and where you are on the ice,” Witt said. “We might want to make a play and dump it in and she was always thinking possession, possession, possession and bringing it back, and she had to make adjustments that way.”

Bowes isn’t surprised that Jensen thrived at UNH and beyond. She scored nine goals and had 14 assists for 23 points with the Wildcats.

“She was very committed hockey-wise and academically,” Bowes said. “She would go play with her national team in Denmark and fly back into the Rutland airport on a puddle-jumper from New York City, and I’d pick her up to go back to Castleton. It was the best route her father could figure out to get her there.”

The commitment grew from her passion for the game, Bowes said.

“She was so committed to being a hockey player,” he said. “Her passion to play hockey was at another level. She ate, drank and slept hockey all the time.”

The passion and commitment to play at the highest levels led her to the Swedish league. While playing there she was named Denmark’s Athlete of the Year.

Denmark earned its way to Beijing through a tournament in November that included Germany, Italy and Austria.

Now Jensen and her teammates are making Denmark’s first appearance in the Olympics. The country’s men’s team is doing likewise.

The women’s teams in the Olympics are divided into two groups for preliminary-round games. Group A teams are the United States, Canada, Finland, Switzerland and ROC, the players representing Russia. All Group A teams will advance to the quarterfinals.

The Group B teams are Japan, Czech Republic, Sweden, Denmark and China. Three of the Group B teams will make it to the quarterfinals.

“I’m thrilled for her,” Bowes said. “I love the U.S. and obviously want us to win the gold medal, but were we to lose to anyone, I hope it would be Denmark and Nico that win it. That’s a longshot. But in this game of hockey and sports, you never count anything out. Anything is possible.”

Witt is excited not only for Jensen, but for her team being in the Olympics in a field expanded to 10 nations and what that means for women’s hockey.

“It shows the growth of our game,” Witt said. “When women’s hockey first started in the Olympics in 1998, Denmark and women’s hockey would not be synonymous. It’s great to see for the game and country. Having a bigger mix of countries is great. It’s an exciting time for the sport.”

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