Raising the standards
by Henrik Manninen|18 APR 2021
Icelandic troika at Troja Ljungby: Berglind Leifsdottir, Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir and Herborg Geirsdottir.
photo: Mats Bekkevold
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“In the past, I’ve never played with someone who pushed us to skate faster, pass harder, shoot harder and go all in, but she really did that. She is truly a legend.”

Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir does not hold back on the superlatives of having skated on the same team as Danijela Rundqvist. The 2006 Winter Olympic silver medallist and multiple Swedish and European Women’s Champions Cup winner left an indelible mark on the 20-year-old Icelandic forward at Sweden´s Sodertalje the previous season.

“It was a great start and now I know I can aim higher,” said Bjorgvinsdottir. “It has also been really inspiring to talk to the younger players in Sweden. They all hope to get a chance in SDHL or play college hockey in North America. It sounds so real for them as they have so many opportunities that you can´t get in Iceland.”

Heading down the Swedish route has in the past proved to be a recipe for success for Icelandic hockey. When Iceland’s men’s national team celebrated their finest display to date, winning silver at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A, their key-men had all skated in Sweden. Starting from last season, a growing contingent from Iceland’s women’s team started to follow suit to develop at Swedish clubs.

Half a dozen of them made the cut for the roster at the 2020 Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships Division II Group B. Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir and non-related Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir skated for Sodertalje. Saga Blondal and Herborg Geirsdottir played for Troja Ljungby. Add to that Ragnhildur Kjartansdottir and Kristin Ingadottir who both had benefited from stints at Farjestad Karlstad.

Growing up in Iceland’s northern outpost Akureyri, Bjorgvinsdottir had started with figure skating before a cousin got her hooked on hockey. Under the watchful eye of Icelandic national team veteran Sarah Shantz-Smiley, the women’s program has since made strides in the northern Icelandic outpost. For Bjorgvinsdottir, who made her senior World Championship debut for her country as a 15-year-old, jumping across to Sweden became a natural step in her development. 

“The future in Icelandic women’s hockey is bright with a lot of young girls now practicing both in Akureyri and Reykjavik,” said Bjorgvinsdottir while adding the challenge that only two or three clubs have been participating in the league. Her home-town club Skautafelag Akureyrar dominated women’s hockey in Iceland winning 19 out of 20 national women championships.

Upon completing upper secondary school in Iceland, Bjorgvinsdottir sealed a move to Sodertalje in the Eastern section of Sweden’s second tier, DamEttan. Reporting for practice at her new club was to be an eye-opener.

“The home rink in Sodertalje was like ten times bigger than in Akureyri. Practices were a lot different than what I was used to, always game-like situations which made us sharper on game day,” said Bjorgvinsdottir.

Games now also came thick and fast. Back home she has been used to up to twelve games during the regular season. In Sweden, skating in a 28-game regular season against eight different teams paid dividends for the 178-cm playmaker.

“Games were so much faster than in Iceland with a lot better opponents than I was used to. Our coach gave us the freedom to play as we liked but we needed to communicate a lot and figure out how to solve things together as a team. All this helped me to become a better player and I now also skate and think faster,” said Bjorgvinsdottir.
Sunna Bjorgvinsdottir (left) together with Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in Akureyri, Iceland.
photo: Elvar Palsson
High in confidence and with newly acquired skills, Bjorgvinsdottir headed temporarily back home to Akureyri at the end of February 2020. Stakes were high ahead of the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B with Iceland aiming for gold. The hosts got off to a nightmare, trailing Australia 4-0 after the first period in their opening day 6-1 defeat. Iceland got up to speed to win their remaining four games and conceding only once. But it was all in vain as Iceland ended up with the silver medals behind promotion-winning Australia.

“It’s not every day you get to play in front of an almost full stadium so that was really fun. It was a learning experience for everyone and we hope next time we face a team like Australia we will be ready. We have to if we want to get promoted to Division IIA,” said Bjorgvinsdottir, who was second in scoring for the hosts with 9 points (5+4) in five games.

While dejected on having missed out on promotion in front of her loved ones, bigger worries loomed around the horizon. As COVID-19 brought the world to a halt, Bjorgvinsdottir’s debut season in Sweden ended abruptly after 28 games.

With a lingering feeling of having unfinished business in Sweden, Bjorgvinsdottir sealed a move to ambitious Troja Ljungby ahead of this season. There she was one of three Icelandic players on the roster of the southern Swedish club playing at the second level in DamEttan Sodra. With Troja Ljungby’s club’s management last year having expressed high-flying ambitions to become Sweden’s top women’s team within a decade, Bjorgvinsdottir appears to have found the ideal place to fulfil a career ambition.

Unfortunately these ambitions saw a setback as the league had to stop after a few games in fall due to new COVID-19 measures in Sweden that only saw the top-level SDHL continuing the season.

“My biggest dream as a kid was to one day play at the Olympics with Iceland but I don’t really see that happening while I’m alive. But as I was getting older my dream has been to play in the SDHL and go to college in the USA,” she said.