The Northern Lights Hockey Tournament – 1 October 20, 2014

Okay, so we’re on a bus in downtown Reykjavik a little after 8 pm. That’s 14-½ hours after we’d landed in Iceland, and about 36 hours since most of us had got any sleep. Overnight flights? Where the overhead lights won’t turn off? We’d landed a little bleary-eyed at Icelandic dawn, known in Toronto as 2:30 a.m. Now we were finishing off the day by taking a quick bus ride into the countryside to chase down northern lights.

IMG_1494Except that our driver, Roni, informed us that it wasn’t going to be quick. He wouldn’t be bringing us back to Reykjavik until 1 a.m.

“Let me off,” Liz cried, bolting from her seat.

Roni was unmoved. “You will stay on the bus and you will see northern lights,” he said, stepping on the gas.

Our women’s hockey team was in Iceland to play in an international tournament, with men’s and women’s teams from around the north competing at two levels: recreational and elite. We were thirteen players, forward and defence, who had been promised an Icelandic goalie to complete our roster during the two-day tournament. Given the fact that we’d never played together as a team—and that many of our players had played hockey for less than a year—we were playing rec and thought we would probably lose all our games.

That wasn’t what happened, but it wasn’t exactly the point. Having fun was the point. Therefore we were being held hostage on a bus by Roni (pronounced Rrrrrronny) as he drove out of Reykjavik, telling us that atmospheric conditions were good and he expected to offer us a light show high in the mountains outside the city.

We’d already had a full day, starting as we were met at the airport by the women’s tournament organizer, Canada’s own Deirdre Norman. After she herded her latest selection of cats onto the bus, we watched the sun rise over the beautifully bleak lava fields on the way in from Keflavik airport, then dropped our hockey bags at suburban Egilshöll arena. Iceland has three ice arenas, two in Reykjavik and one in the northern town of Akureyri, where I’d played in a women-only hockey tournament also organized by Deirdre the previous year (story and pictures here).

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

The Egilshöll sports complex contains not only an ice rink, but three indoor football pitches, a bowling alley, indoor tennis courts, a shooting range and—on the second floor—a movie theatre. They need it. Nights are long in Reykjavik’s winter: twenty hours long at the December solstice. Since the men’s teams had already played a couple of games, the stench in the equipment storage room was every bit as intense. We dropped our gear quickly and drove to the Hotel Frón on central Laugavegur, which would be our base for the next five days.

Laugavegur is an old route once used by Icelandic women to take their laundry to the local hot spring, where a huge thermal swimming complex now sits. These days, it’s a chic shopping street, and as we headed out for lunch, we were able to choose among a huge selection of restaurants. Food became a theme of our trip, and proved excellent from the start,  as we ate sandwiches and yoghurt at the first-rate Sandholt pastry and sandwich shop. After deciding not to think about the European prices, we downed home-baked bread with smoked salmon or ham, meanwhile plotting the afternoon. Given the setting, hot springs came to mind.

Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon.

To be continued…