A slow but steady growth

A slow but steady growth

28 Jul 2013 | Davide Tuniz

Icelandic hockey experiences a success among youth. Eurohockey.com talks with former national team coach Richard Tahtinen


Former Icelandic national team coach, Finnish Richard Tahtinen talked with Eurohockey.com about the state of hockey in Iceland

Eurohockey: you coached the national team in the past and clubs in the country, can you tell us how is the state of health of Iceland hockey today? has hockey improved in last years in terms of popularity and players? How the economic crisis of the country affected this sport?

Richard Tahtinen: In general the health of hockey is good. Ice hockey has become more popular, based on the slightly increased media coverage as well as in the increased amount of players. An especially interesting and positive development, probably mirroring the overall increased popularity of the sport, has taken place in the increase of new players and enthusiasts in less competitive “old boys” hockey. This is a positive trend as these individuals will provide more supporters and promoters of the sport. Furthermore, these individuals are likely to bring their own children into the sport.

The economic crisis has of course affected everyone in one way or the other. The most obvious negativeaspect has been the increased cost of already expensive equipment, which of course sets a challenge for both new participants as well as those already in the sport. For national teams it has also been challenging as the cost of travelling has increased.

Eurohockey: surfing in the clubs' websites, the feeling is that clubs invest a lot in youth activities, even more then in senior ones, is this true? how is the answer from children and youngs?

Richard Tahtinen: The most important part of the Icelandic ice hockey today is of course the children’s and youth’s programs. It is maybe difficult to evaluate whether or not there is more investment in these programs than into the senior programs as they are very separate entities. However, the children’s and youth programs are the main focus within the clubs and that is where most of the volunteer work is focused on. Maybe the most challenging issue for the children and youth has been the year to year fluctuations in terms of amount of participants. However, the clubs have in general put a lot of emphasis on making these programs more consistent, making sure that recruiting and maintaining participants do not fluctuate year to year as much as it has done in the past.

Eurohockey: in last years Icelandic league has grown with the addition of farm teams, what is your evaluation of this decision? was it positive for the Icelandic hockey?

Richard Tahtinen: This has allowed the younger players to gain more experience in senior hockey. As mentioned, the year to year fluctuation has been a problem for the hockey movement in Iceland and in some years this posed a problem for the U20 teams due to small amount of players. So, by introducing the farm teams two flies were struck at the same time; giving young players the experience of senior hockey and making sure that there is an opportunity for all dedicated players to continue their hockey involvement. Without the farm teams several players would not have had the chance to play, but now a higher amount of involved individuals for a longer period of time. Also, due to the trade rule between A-teams and the farm teams (you are allowed to move players up and down between the teams) individuals have an opportunity to play more games over the season. In my opinion this decision was good for Iceland, for the time being. However it is vital that within the next years a new team will be introduced in order to take ice hockey in Iceland to the next level.

Eurohockey: Eurohockey recently reported the news about a preliminary agreement for the building of a rink in Kopavogur, A new team will be estabilished? is there a plan to add other icehockey clubs?

Richard Tahtinen: Yes the plan has been there for several years, but it seems that this may become reality, if not this season then hopefully the next. I do not think there are any plans for a fifth club any time soon.

Eurohockey: NAHL team Aberdeen Wings has tendered Bjorn Robert Sigurdarson, is the first ever Icelandic player to play in North America? Which are the other young players to watch as potential future stars in your opinion?

Richard Tahtinen: For my knowledge there have not been other Icelandic players who have played in the North-American leagues (at least not a whole season or at this level), except for Emil Alengard who played for New England College. However, I believe one more -94 born Icelandic player, Steindor Ingason, will play in North-America for the Kamloops Storm in the KIJHL next season. It is difficult to name any potential future stars. The problem is the fact that even though we are able to produce skilled youth players, we lack the competitive edge in our leagues for the critical age group between ages 15-17. This is not only a critical time for development of higher level hockey skills but also academically and socially, thus making it difficult for these adolescents to go abroad and play hockey when they are still interesting prospects. When these players then reach the age 18-21 years, it is often “too late” as they have missed an important developmental period. At the time being there is no co-operation with teams abroad that can provide, not only a place to develop as a higher level hockey player, but also an adequate support network to ensure that these individuals can continue with academics and receive support off-the-ice. However, I believe that the farm team arrangement on senior level has been a good way to improve the level of the youth/junior players in Iceland. Hopefully also with the advancement of Bjorn and Steindor the interest of Icelandic players will increase abroad and more skilled players will get a similar opportunity.

Eurohockey: Iceland National Team seems to have found its dimension in Div. II. Is this the right level for Icelandic hockey or could develop further?

Richard Tahtinen: The men’s national team has improved every year, considering that since 2010 it has won against a new country almost each year, winning against China 2010, Serbia 2011, and this year beating both Australia and Spain for the first time. I think that this is the right level for the national team for the time being. However when the “infrastructure” around hockey has been taken to the next level, with additional rinks and teams, it is realistic to expect that the Icelandic national team will be seen in div 1.

Also the women’s national team and the women’s program in general has improved rapidly, producing players who have received good level of coaching from early age, thus introducing a more competitive environment and pushing the overall development in the country.

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