The main event of the World Junior Hockey Championships is over, but for the Revelstoke Grizzlies Steindor Igason, they’re just beginning.
Igason, who hails from Iceland, will be representing his country in Division IIB of the WJHC, which gets underway on Saturday, Jan. 11, in Jaca, Spain. They will be facing off against teams from Australia, China, South Korea, Serbia and the host country.
“It’s pretty good hockey,” Igason said. “I think it’s better hockey there than here. I think it’s because you’re playing for your country. It is softer there because of IIHF rules, but it is faster there.”
Unbeknownst to many, the WJHC actually features six divisions. The top division, which Canada plays in, is the one that gets all the attention. Below that, there are five other divisions, where countries from all over the world compete for a chance to move up a level. Division III, the lowest one, features teams from South Africa, Mexico, Turkey and other non-hockey countries.
Despite the island country’s name, and the Mighty Ducks movie series might have you believe, Iceland has little hockey tradition. With a tiny population of only 321,000 people, and only 611 registered hockey players in the entire country, Iceland has bounced between the bottom divisions of the WJHC for most of its hockey history.
Igason, 19, plays defence for team Iceland, though he has been playing forward for the Grizzlies this season. This will be his fifth time at the U20 World Championships. Last year, his team finished fifth in the six-team division, avoiding relegation to Division III.
He expects to be either the captain or assistant captain on the team and his goal is to lead his team to first place and a move up into Division IIA.
“We have a pretty good team now. My buddies play in the States, so we have pretty good guys from there,” he said. “My home team is doing great in Iceland. Half the team is from my old team, so I think we’re going to win, hopefully.”
Igason got into hockey on roller skates before moving to the ice. He liked the sport enough to keep it up. He played junior hockey in Iceland before moving to Canada last spring and trying out for the Kamloops Storm. He made the team out of the main camp and started the season there until he was dealt to the Grizzlies for Aiden Silzer-Hooker.
He said the calibre of hockey here is better than in Iceland. “It’s way more physical and way faster hockey,” he said. “It’s way bigger here than in Iceland so you have to be better.”
Iceland opens the tournament this Saturday, Jan. 11, against South Korea. Igason will be away for two weeks before re-joining the Grizzlies for the final month of the season.