Learning curve for Iceland
by Andy Potts|10 OCT 2021
Iceland's captain, Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir, in Olympic Qualification action.
photo: Dean Woolley
Iceland is taking its first steps in women’s Olympic qualification this weekend in Nottingham – and the team from the North Atlantic finds itself on a steep learning curve. Back-to-back losses and no goals scored in games against Britain and Korea highlight the challenges facing a small nation looking to advance its national program.

However, for team captain Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir, the opportunities for Iceland’s players to build on a taste of higher-level hockey is priceless.

“This is a really valuable learning experience for us as a team,” she said. “We don’t get a lot of games like this, neither in our own league in Iceland, nor as a national team.

“And we’re doing way better than we thought we were going to do, despite the results.”
We’ve shown in our games so far that we can play at this level, we just need to get used to it. This is a good thing for our team.
Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir
Icelandic women's national team captain
In World Championship play, Iceland competes in Division IIB. Here in Nottingham, the opposition is from IIA and IB. Iceland would have had an opportunity to play among its peers last month in a preliminary group, but that tournament had to be cancelled due to the difficulties of traveling during the pandemic. So now, this weekend is all about building a team for next year’s World Championship campaign.

“We want to get up to the next level and hopefully qualify for IIA,” Bjorgvinsdottir said. “So it’s big, getting these three games in a row where we play high-level, fast, tough teams. I think that’s going to help us bring some experience to the team when we go to Croatia in March.”

‘The most unique team in the world’

Iceland has an unusually close-knit group of players. On the current roster in Nottingham, all but four of Jon Gislason’s players come from Akureyri, a town of 18,000 in the north of the country. That’s testament to the efforts made by Sarah Smiley, a Toronto-born player who moved to the town and kickstarted both the local team and the national women’s program starting back in 2006/07. But the local connection is only part of the reason why Bjorgvinsdottir believes Iceland is “the most unique team in the world”.

“We have players who are aged 14-40,” she said. “And we have seven players who are over 20, but nobody between 22 and 32, which is pretty special.

“Plus, coming from such a small country, we all have connections to each other. Either it’s family, or we’ve known each other since we were little babies and been practising together. I coached a couple of the girls on the team when I was younger and it’s a unique experience to be on a team where we know each other so well.”

Broader horizons

That family feel isn’t enough, though, to develop Icelandic hockey. Silvia is one of a pioneering wave of players heading overseas to play at a higher level. Her career includes time in Sweden, where she hit an impressive 49 (33+16) in 25 games for Sodertalje in the 2019/20, and the NCAA with Norwich University. This season she’s playing with Goteborg HC in the top women’s league in Sweden.

“It’s crucial for us to go overseas and get that abroad experience,” she said. “In Iceland we only get maybe 12 games in a season. It’s not a lot, honestly. When you go to Sweden or the U.S. at college level you get more games, and those games are at a higher level. You never know who is going to win.

“Playing against the Finnish national team girls and a lot of the Swedish national team girls is a really good experience for me. They are at such a high level.

“But I know that if we work hard – and it will take a while, we’re not going to do this in a year – we can get there. It just takes hard work.”

Hard work, but also perhaps a guiding light along the way. As team captain, despite being just 22 years old, Bjorgvinsdottir is eager to share her foreign experiences with the team – and hopefully inspire more players to follow her.

“I’m trying to pave the way for our younger kids and their dreams,” she said.
For me, there was nobody who was Icelandic and was paving the way for me, whether that was playing college hockey or getting to the highest division in Sweden. I really want to show them that this is possible even though we come from a small island in the middle of nowhere.
Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir
Icelandic women's national team captain
“I hope I’m paving the way for our players not only to play in Sweden, but to qualify for the highest league. It’s a dream for many of our girls and they don’t know if it’s possible, but it is. If we work hard, if we do all the boring jobs that aren’t much fun, we can do it.”