Disney movie buffs will cheekily remember that Iceland played the villainous top-ranked team in the Junior Goodwill Games against Emilio Estevez’s Mighty Ducks. Their slick-moussed coach, Wolf “The Dentist” Stansson, and his burly, mini-dynamo Icelander youth hockey team were so convincingly good that many audiences may have been fooled into thinking that hockey is second nature to the youth of the nation.
However, despite the portrayal of Iceland as Vikings on Ice, the country’s soggy, windy weather conditions over the decades have made for a poor environment to maintain outdoor ice rinks. The first successful Icelandic hockey team had to exist on another continent during the 1920s: the mostly-Icelandic comprised Winnipeg Falcons, which represented Canada in its first Olympic hockey games. Since then, climate and lack of proper facilities have made it difficult for Iceland to maintain a strong hockey tradition. Fortunately, for Icelandic hockey fans, all of that could be changing quickly.
Starting their national competitive league in 1991, Iceland has crosschecked their way to a formidable position in the global standings. The International Ice Hockey Federation promoted the team up to Division II after a solid performance in the 2007 Men’s World Ice Hockey Championships. The IIHF now (as of 2008) ranks Iceland 38th in the world, a power play goal of an accomplishment.
Viðar Garðarsson, president of Ice Hockey Iceland, attests to the rise of the sport with the growing availability of indoor ice venues and noted that several hockey games were televised on Icelandic television last year. “It’s been only a little over 10 years since getting the first indoor rink,” Garðarsson says. “Iceland now has three indoor ice rinks.”
Despite this initial success, Garðarsson feels that hockey can continue to grow in the nation, with the evidence of enthusiastic youth becoming dedicated rink rats, and is calling for further construction of new indoor rinks. “We still need more facilities. At the present time, at many rinks, there’s a lot of competition for ice time between open skate (times where rinks are open to the public) and figure skating.”
Garðarsson notes that success always starts at a junior level and bringing hockey to the youth of Iceland has helped the growth of the sport. “It’s amazing to see a player who started practicing young and now are talented when they’re 18, 19 or 20. It seems that hockey is very suitable for Icelanders,” Garðarsson says. “You need to be quick and strong, perfect sport for Icelandic boys and girls.”