Hockey on the Equator: Canada’s Game in Singapore
Skates scratch, sticks clap the ice and a puck zips past me. Players crash the net.
Someone scores a goal.
I’m not in Canada. This is Singapore.
Yet, a hockey culture lives here. It’s not huge but it exists and it’s beginning to thrive.
It’s the most at home I’ve felt since being in Asia. Canadians and Europeans run the scene here. It’s a site to behold.
I’m watching my friend Mark Song play, who I work with at Asian Geographic. A Singaporean, Mark fell head over heels for hockey during a brief academic stint in Oklahoma last year.
He’s about half my height, much skinnier, wears glasses and has long hair. He doesn’t look like a hockey player. But there he was, using his speed to skate circles around the other team. Mark, 23, has only been playing hockey for a year. And for being so new to the sport he’s pretty damn good.
Mark also plays floorball, a variation of ball hockey but played with shorter sticks and a wiffle ball, so his transition into ice hockey came naturally. Since a new ice rink – one of two in Singapore – opened up, he hasn’t been able to put down his hockey stick: he’s ad-stick-ded.
When he tells people that he plays, most people think he’s talking about field hockey. Most can’t fathom there’s actually an ice surface in Singapore.
His smile can be seen underneath his caged helmet across the rink. He really loves hockey. And he knows how lucky he is.
“I love it. It’s a dream. It’s a privilege to play. I feel so lucky that I’m able to find hockey here,” he says.
In a seasonless place where summer reigns supreme and the only images of natural ice and snow are found through an Internet search engine, most wouldn’t suspect people to be lacing up in Singapore.
“It never snows in Singapore and it never drops below twenty below in Singapore so you’d imagine there would be ice the only ice I’ve seen growing up is synthetic ice and that was shit. It’s not the same to skate on,” he adds.
JCube is the name of the mall that houses the rink. It’s Singapore’s first Olympic-sized hockey rink and can accommodate 460 spectators. Various leagues play out of the building. Reminiscent of the West Edmonton Mall’s rink where the Oilers sometimes practice, the rink is surrounded by restaurants and shops.
The ice is nowhere near the quality of what I’m used to but I guess beggars can’t be choosers. The scent of dry ice fills my nostrils and a thick cloud of fog envelopes the goaltender at the opposite end of the rink. Visibility is limited. It makes the lone netminder look of ghostly in a badass kind of way.
Up until now, I had met only a single Canadian in Singapore. But here, dozens of Canadian expatriates gather here for a cultural experience: hockey.
Back home, those who don’t play it take it for granted as just a sport; but here Canadians interpret the sport as a sacred ritual, a privilege that up until recently, was denied to most.The first indication of a Canadian subculture here comes when I spot a Vancouver Canucks’ hat amongst the crowd of hockey players in the dressing rooms.
His name was Jason Fong and he was from south Vancouver. He was as shocked as I was to find Canada’s unofficial sport in Singapore after arriving here.
Damn, that was a welcome site. Vancouver is my second home and the Canucks are my team so it was weirdly pleasing to see someone rocking the ‘C’-shaped orca whale. I nearly hug the guy. I get hyper enough when I discover a ‘Nucks’ fan in Halifax, but this was something else. We’re thousands of miles from Vancouver. My journalistic duties prevail and I refrain. I sit down to pick his brain for a few moments instead.
Although he said the level of play lacks in comparison to the Great White North and it’s sometimes frustrating, he’s just happy to find an ice surface to carve up. His favourite Canucks players are Trevor Linden and Henrik Sedin.
Since hockey is so new here, Jason also says it’s tough to get your hands on decent equipment and most players order their gear online from either North America or Europe. And it’s not cheap.
Later I meet Wen Lin, a 23-year-old Singaporean female hockey player. She’s been involved with the sport for just a year and is one of only a handful of girls playing the sport in the city.
She’s upset at the lack of her same sex playing the sport and wants to see more girls hitting the ice in Singapore.
“It’s way too small and there aren’t enough females playing here, especially people around my age. It’s quite an aggressive sport and girls are not the aggressive kind. They are kind of soft. And they’re getting even softer,” she says.
Wen Lin likes hockey for it’s physical nature, despite a no body checking rule that’s enforced in most of the leagues in Singapore.
She cheers for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sidney Crosby’s her favourite player.
Wen Lin is excited to learn my current city in Canada is her idol’s birthplace. The way her eyes light up upon my admission makes Nova Scotia seem like a made-up imaginary land, something from a fairytale. Home feels far away for a moment. An alternate reality.
I snap out of my daydream and realign my gaze to the game being played in front of me. I smile. There’s definitely hockey in Singapore.
Connect with Dorian Geiger, editor of Sleepless in Singapore.