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Freezing in Singapore: Discovering ice hockey in the tropics

By: Regan Watson

I looped my knitted scarf around my neck and rapidly rubbed my palms together, trying to generate some heat to warm my rigid fingers. I could feel the tip of my nose going numb, just like it had on so many wintery days growing up in Canada. But this wasn’t Canada. I was in tropical Singapore, just one degree north of the equator.

Where in Singapore could you be this cold? I wasn’t at an overly air-conditioned shopping mall or one of the cryogenic freezing chambers they call a “movie theatre”. I was in an arena watching ice hockey.

Ice hockey in Singers. Who knew? 

Back when we had first arrived in Singapore and my boyfriend told me he was going to be playing hockey, I thought he was joking.

“Hockey? Like, field hockey? On the grass?”

“Nope. Hockey-hockey. On the ice,” he grinned.

“But… isn’t it 30 degrees Celsius year-round here? It must cost a fortune to keep the ice frozen, even if it’s inside.”

He shrugged. “It’s Singapore.”

He was right. If ever there were a city to take on the challenge of building a sub-zero sports venue in the tropical heat, it would be Singapore. Seemingly impossible things get done here. In the time it would take to build a new overpass at home, Singapore could whip together a 70-storey skyscraper built on reclaimed land and divert the river to make an MRT station. No problem lah!

And so I found myself in a familiar position, carrying hockey sticks while my boyfriend lugged his gigantic bag full of padding, helmets and skates into an ice hockey arena. It was just like at home. Only here, instead of wiping frost from my eyelashes and watching my boots make prints in the snow on the way to the arena, I was wiping sweat which was trickling down my back as we passed by palm trees.

Inside the arena, I was introduced to some of the other players. Most of their home countries were not surprising: Sweden, the US. However, I was shocked to learn that there was a healthy dose of Singaporean talent represented in the league. Although the average Singaporean does not bring to mind the typical image of a hockey player – a hulking brute enforcer, maybe with a few teeth missing – what they lack in brawn, they make up for in speed. I watched, impressed, as the native islanders swished down the ice with ease. 

Coming to Singapore, a country so lacking in cold weather sports that it doesn’t even compete in the Winter Olympics, I never thought that hockey would remain a part of my life. I was pretty sure the only ice I would see would be the frost on the inside of my freezer as I pulled out some popsicles.

But if we can find ice hockey in the middle of the tropics, what other seemingly impossible things might we discover? I’m excited to find out.