Strong Canadian presence at Icelandic ice hockey festival

Last year, 14 women hockey players grabbed the chance to form a ‘Canadian team’ for an annual October tournament in Iceland. This year, the number has swelled to 57 women and many are bringing their partners and friends so that the Canadian contingent will be the largest group at The Iceland International Ice Hockey Cup Tournament, to be held at Egilsholl Arena in the Icelandic capital of Reykjavik from 5th October to the 10th.

This is the first year that the tournament includes a full women’s division. This represents a five-fold increase in the number of Canadian women taking part and the driving force behind the influx of women is Deirdre Norman and her organisation, The Women of Winter (TWOW).

Norman came to playing hockey later in life. “I started playing at 45 at outdoor rinks so I could play with my husband and son,” said Norman. “I was always riled by the lack of support for the women’s game. I am passionate about making the ‘best game’ accessible to everyone who wants to play. So I had a vision, took it to the organiser of the tourney, Barry Walmsley of ‘Travel and Play’, and he gave me full support.”

Part of the 2011 event will be Canadian Hockey Day in Iceland on 9th October. This collaborative effort brings together ‘Travel and Play’, TWOW, Bjorninn League and Canadian Sarah Smiley who is currently playing on the Icelandic women’s national team. The day-long event will include free skills classes and ‘chalk talk’ and is open to all women and girls who already play hockey as well as those who want to learn the game. Fellow Canadian, Sami Jo Small, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner and five-time world champion goaltender, will present this promotional hockey event with her husband and gold medal Paralympian sledge hockey player, Billy Bridges.

The Iceland International Ice Hockey Cup Tournament has been providing a unique hockey experience for nine years. “The charitable component of the tournament began in 2008 after Iceland’s banking collapse with a bunch of guys from New Jersey who love Iceland (‘The Great Iceland Hockey Bailout’),” Norman says. “So far, 25,000 dollars in cash and hockey equipment has been donated to youth hockey organisations in Iceland and the Icelandic Red Cross. TWOW is responsible for co-ordinating the women’s division, for creating ‘Canadian Hockey Day in Iceland’, for bringing donations of gear, and for bridging Canadian and Icelandic hockey programmes.”

Canadian participation started modestly in 2010. “Last year, 16 women went — 14 players and two friends,” Norman said. “We each paid our own way and were the only non-Icelandic women’s team of the four women’s teams. Everyone was blown away by the country and the experience and all the sharing when we got back got others to come this year, too. There wasn’t a women’s division until I emailed and asked for one a month before the tournament last year.

Both divisions have grown this year, in part because we are taking our partners and friends which added three extra teams to the event.” In total, this year’s tournament has eight women’s teams and ten men’s teams from four countries: Germany, the USA, Iceland and Canada.

Word is getting around about the Canadian women’s hockey second visit to Iceland in October. “Sarah Smiley, a local girl from Toronto, former coach and current member of the Icelandic National team, is working with TWOW to promote the game in her new country. And at this year’s tournament, His Excellency Alan Bones, Canada’s Ambassador to Iceland, will drop the ceremonial puck.” Norman says the event has also “grabbed the attention” of the IIHF World Girls’ Hockey Day committee.

In the end, Norman says it’s all for the love of hockey and expanding the game, particularly for young women. It is no surprise that the Canadian contingent has grown in just one year. “Everyone that goes gets to see the country and fall in love with Iceland — and they do!”

(From a press release)

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