When Islanders forward Peter Regin signed with the team as a free agent on July 5th, he realized a lifelong dream that once seemed impossible. Lifelong friends Regin and Frans Nielsen were finally set to play on the same NHL team.
Although Nielsen is two years older than Regin, for years it was tough to find the two apart growing up in Herning, Denmark. Since their parents are best friends, Frans and Peter have known each other since the latter was born. Over the years, they’ve formed a bond through hockey.
Regin and Nielsen have played together on nearly every level imaginable and come October, will find themselves wearing the same jersey at the highest level.
“In the past we’ve played street hockey, grown up on the same junior teams, the Danish National team, one year in Sweden and now here. It’s pretty amazing,” Nielsen said.
They haven’t just been on the same team, but also on the same line for nearly all those years.
“We grew up playing on the same line since I was six years old and we did that for 10 years, ” said Regin. “We usually play together on the national team too.”
Although they’re both centers now in the NHL, it was never a question who was the man down the middle back in Denmark.
“Always Frans. He’s older,” chuckled Regin.
Hailing from Herning, a town of roughly 50,000 people that’s three hours west of the Danish capital, Copenhagen, the two grew up playing in the Herning Blue Fox youth system. Since making it to the NHL, Nielsen and Regin often spend their summers training with the Blue Fox professional team that has won the Danish league title 15 times in the past 27 seasons.
The two were on vacation together on Spain’s Mallorca Island on the opening day of free agency, when Regin chose to sign with the Islanders.
“I was at the hotel and it was right around when the market opened,” said Nielsen. “I asked if he heard from anyone and he said ‘I just agreed with you guys.’ It was a pretty great moment.”
The decision was so easy for Regin that he agreed to a contract within the first hour of being eligible to do so.
“After I spoke to Garth, right away it was my first priority to come here,” said Regin. “I obviously heard a lot of good things from Frans. With all the success he’s had here I thought it would be a good fit.”
With training camp set to begin next week, the two Danes are on Long Island taking part in informal team skates. While Regin searches for his own residence, he’s temporarily staying at Nielsen’s home.
“Usually when you come to a new place it’s pretty nerve-wracking; you check into a new hotel and you don’t know anybody,” said the former Ottawa Senator. “When I arrived, I wasn’t nervous at all because it was like going home to stay with your family.”
After Nielsen became the first Danish raised hockey player to become an NHL player in 2007, the popularity of the sport has skyrocketed in his home country. Although still well behind the national sport of soccer and Olympic Sport handball, both Nielsen and Regin believe hockey is now firmly the third most popular sport in Denmark.
There’s no question which player and franchise have been at the forefront of that emerging sport.
“There’s more Islanders fans in Denmark, not just because [Nielsen] was the first guy but he’s also been the best player,” said Regin. “He’s had a lot of success over the past few years. I think there are lots of Islanders fans and hopefully even more now that I’m here too.”
If the two friends can help bring even more on-ice success to the Islanders this upcoming season, it quite likely will bring even more orange and blue on the streets of Herning.
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