Hockey Unlimited’s second episode looks at people in, around and behind the game

What is it that makes hockey such a national passion, more even than just a pastime?

Aquila Productions’ second installment of its new documentary series, Hockey Unlimited, broadcast on Sportsnet Tuesday (with a series of repetitions coming up), is looking for answers. And it finds them in all kinds of environments.

This episode begins with a trip to the Sutter family farm in rural Alberta. After all, the six Sutter siblings have played in almost 6,000 NHL games all told, so, they should know a thing or two about hockey.

Turns out, they know a thing or two about life.

Many have interviewed the Sutters before, so, one would ask, what else and new can we find out about them?

Well, how about, for example, that Darryl Sutter, yes, the one who has coached the Los Angeles Kings to two Stanley Cup victories, realizes that even though he’s spent 34 years in the NHL, he’s still spent every summer of those 34 years back on the farm? Not resting. Working. And farm work, even with all kinds of equipment and machinery now available, is still hard work. So hard, in fact, that Darryl Sutter recalls he and his brothers didn’t need much summer training to keep in shape for forthcoming NHL seasons: they just worked on the farm, and that took care of it.

The Sutters are also helping their community. It’s nothing out of the ordinary: a golf tournament. Except it has now become a tradition, aged a couple of decades, and its contribution to community causes (every cent raised goes toward the stated goal) has now reached millions of dollars.

Speaking of knowing where one comes from, another segment of this episode of Hockey Unlimited visits with the King family at Meadow Lake in Saskatchewan. Yes, we do witness Dwight King’s day with the Stanley Cup, except, we get to see much more: Hockey Unlimited stays put in the community a bit longer. The King brothers and sisters, all of them involved in hockey, stage summer hockey schools, and watching the enthusiasm in the eyes of both the students and their instructors is a precious experience.

Which brings us, logically, to another segment.

Hockey, as popular a sport as it is, is also a rather expensive form of spending one’s spare time. When parents want their children to indulge, it costs them both time and money. Most parents would be perfectly willing to give their time to their children, but how about the money?

As Hockey Canada chief Tom Renney tells Hockey Unlimited, enrollment in minor hockey in Canada is not what it used to be, and – he confirms – it’s the money that is the main concern here.

But it doesn’t have to be, Hockey Unlimited tells us, and it proves its point. Yes, minor hockey clubs need to raise funds for ice time and to cover all kinds of necessary expenses, but the cost of equipment need not be as outrageous as it seems when one visits the specialized sports equipment superstores. There are community-based (and community-run) second-hand equipment stores, there can be exchanges, and some of the major sports equipment companies have also got involved to help the kids make that necessary first step that would, hopefully, lead them to a more active participation (and a more healthy lifestyle).

Speaking of which, how many of us have known that Mark Messier’s sister Mary-Kay has been involved in one such program?

It has become a part of Hockey Unlimited’s lineup: coaches Steve Serdachny and Simon Bennett offer invaluable tips how one can improve one’s skills.

Hockey Unlimited is an incredibly good documentary. It takes a topic most of us think we know inside out, and shows us angles most of us would either have never heard of, or never thought of. They present their stories convincingly, using great camera work, attention to detail in editing, overall sound and music selection, telling us that hockey, just as most team sports, creates special bonds between people who would have never met without it.

It shows us hockey stars as people who know whence they’ve come and to whom (and what) they owe their success.

At a time when all and sundry think that their television production (in the documentary field, in particular) simply must be controversial, preferably violent and shocking, with all kinds of mayhem thrown in to drum up custom, it takes a certain degree of courage to document the lives of normal people and the game they love. Both Aquila Productions and Sportsnet deserve credit for being this courageous, and for delivering programming that is healthy food for thought.

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