“Iceland thrash Turkey in fight for gold” blared a small corner of page 2 in Morgunbladid’s Monday sports supplement. Yes, Iceland is now a world champion nation. On Saturday night, in front of a near-capacity crowd of over 1000, the national men’s hockey team defeated Turkey to claim the crown in the Division III men’s championships. With the victory comes an upgrade to Division II and national glory.
Well, maybe not quite the latter – yet. Despite its northern altitude, hockey has always played second (or third or fourth) fiddle to football, handball, basketball and several other sports for the country’s affections and financial support. Skautahöllin Reykjavíkur, the main arena, only had a roof built 10 years ago. Before that, players had to practice outdoors on a rink that looked more like a duck pond after a few warm days.
But somewhere deep down Iceland has an emotional bond with the sport. The first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey was awarded in 1920 to the Winnipeg Falcons, a team which was comprised almost entirely of Icelandic immigrants. The current Icelandic team still wears a crest which carries a falcon in honour of the their compatriots who won gold so many years ago, and the average Icelander could probably tell you the story of the Falcons.
With former glory as inspiration, the Icelandic men’s national team has a new coach, Ed Maggiacomo, who has been getting the team in fighting shape for the season. With an undefeated record in the world championships and the winning trophy for the local Reykjavík team he also coaches, Ed is in high spirits.
I spoke with him after Iceland’s victory and he was excited about the championship and the positive impact such success has on hockey in Iceland. “It will increase hockey here a lot,” he said.
Despite a grand total of about 200 words summarizing the final game in Morgunbladid, Ed was thrilled with media coverage of the tournament (“I couldn’t have asked for any better”). He said the team was on the cover of the sports pages every day except the final one. It seems the team’s one mistake was to win on the same weekend as the final of the men’s local handball and European professional leagues. The paper devoted more lines to a story on local political leaders who attended the handball game than on the nation’s hockey victory. But other than the final day, hockey was the up there among the main sports stories.
So stay tuned for April next year when the Division II tournament will take place. Iceland will face hockey demons like Bulgaria, Ukraine and Mexico (to whom it lost in 2005).
To keep you distracted in the meantime, I’ll remind you that the Stanley Cup playoffs are currently taking place way over in North America. The Ottawa Senators are going all the way. You heard it here first, folks.