Hockey Unlimited offers impressive season finale

There are 30 NHL teams. They have 690 players on their active rosters.

A few thousand players in minor professional leagues are working their behinds off to join the anointed 690. And then there are tens of thousands players in all kinds of sundry competitions, from university level to any other kind of a league. Some of them are in North America, others play overseas. Many of them dream of making the NHL and, ultimately, lifting the Stanley Cup over their heads.

But the 30 NHL teams can only accommodate 690 players all told.

Selecting those few who might have what it takes to make the show is what NHL teams’ scouts’ jobs are all about.

With this being this season’s last installment of Hockey Unlimited, and this year’s NHL draft coming in just a couple of months, the Aquila Productions’ documentary took a behind-the-scenes look at the way NHL clubs search for new talent. With professional insiders leading the way, we get to see the many things that have to happen before a general manager, surrounded by his coaches and scouts, mounts the podium to announce his team’s selection.

Sportsnet aired this season’s Hockey Unlimited finale Thursday, and there are several repeat broadcasts scheduled (see below for additional information).

Finding the future NHL stars makes looking for a needle in a haystack an easy job. Remember, it’s not only the first-rounders who are expected to make an impact within a season or two. It’s the late bloomers who make this exercise so exciting. In fact, as Hockey Unlimited shows, not all first-rounders develop into bona fide NHL players, while quite a few players selected in later rounds of the draft end up becoming stars (Pavel Datsyuk comes to mind).

So what does it take? Analytics, of course, say the insiders, but gut feelings, too, and those are usually based on wealth of experience. Scouts gather this kind of experience through trial and error. They spend many years going from one arena to another in some God-forsaken places, looking for gems no other scouts have noticed. And, of course, talking to the coaches and to the players themselves helps reveal significant angles, also.

To sum up, it’s a tough job, but if a professional sports league such as the NHL wants to survive, somebody’s got to do it.

A visionary’s vision

A visionary Roman Catholic priest, Père (Father) James Athol Murray, loved God, Canada and hockey. Not necessarily (or not always) in that order. The founder of a high school now known as the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame of Wilcox, Saskatchewan, this learning institution has given the hockey world a number of stars, some of whom reminisce in the second segment of this episode of Hockey Unlimited about the time they spent in the community of fewer than 400, studying in the boarding school that earned international fame since its founding in 1927.

That the Notre Dame Hounds form a team most other hockey clubs respect, and very rightfully so, is one thing. The other is that the school educates its students academically and, perhaps most importantly, as human beings, too.

As students and alumni tell us, on top of it all, they form friendships that they expect to last them till death do them part.

It’s one part of what Hockey Unlimited does so well: it puts the game into perspective.

Fighting a frightful battle

Nowhere does Hockey Unlimited show it better (and with more understanding) than in telling the final story of this episode.

Here’s what it’s all about: Noah Fayad, a 14-year-old player on the St. Albert Sabres AAA Bantam team in the Edmonton Major Bantam Hockey League, was becoming more and more tired. His coaches noticed, and his dad asked his son. Alarmed and shocked by the answers, rounds of visits to medical people followed. The diagnosis that came back was overwhelmingly scary: leukemia.

It is quite possible that without young Noah’s active involvement in sports, nobody would have noticed. Or, they would consider the signs a part of the many changes people go through during puberty.

Except, Noah Fayad was physically very fit, indeed, one of the stars on his team. So, the decline in fitness and stamina was more noticeable than if he was a couch potato.

A physician interviewed for Hockey Unlimited said Noah’s prognosis seems encouraging. Not only because of his physical fitness, and not only because medical people detected (and started treating) the disease early enough. The friendship and support shown by his teammates and opposing players alike, must have been a boost, too.

Sabres’ young assistant coach Brady Reid lost his father John to the same disease when he was about Noah’s age. He understands what Noah’s family is going through. And he is proud of his players who wear a sticker with Noah’s initials and number (NF 12) on their helmets to show they are in the battle with their teammate.

And when players from other teams show up wearing similar stickers, or just plain stickers announcing they are trying to help find a cure for leukemia, no words can express how grateful Noah and his family must be.

And Hockey Unlimited, not a show known for too many words, is even quieter here. It lets the pictures do the talking.

As always, hockey coach Steve Serdachny offers a few tips: this time, on passing the puck. Fitness guru Simon Bennett makes sure we learn the seemingly easy exercise that would make our hips capable of withstanding the toughest tasks we confront them with.

Serving with distinction

Hockey Unlimited is a fine documentary. Yes, it helps that it covers Canadians’ national passion. What makes it so distinctive is the fact that it not only keeps looking for contexts, it also finds them. Its creators respect both their subjects and their audiences, and that shows, too.

Its tradecraft is impeccable, something we’ve got used to with Aquila Productions’ programming. But its ability in looking for and finding stories that would interest even those few Canadians who prefer anything to hockey, now, this is an ability that makes it extraordinary.

It seems that the timing is right, too. Television audiences are slowly but distinctly becoming bored with fast-paced shows that consist of furious factoid hits without giving the viewers any time to at least consider thinking about what they are seeing.

Hockey Unlimited gives their audiences as many facts as it can give them to let them think and form their opinions. It doesn’t force its own opinions on its viewers, either.

This is what great documentary making is all about, and here’s hoping Hockey Unlimited still has a few seasons ahead of it.

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE:

 

Thurs. Apr. 9

3 PM ET SN One

Fri. Apr. 10

1 PM ET SN Pacific, West, Ontario, East
11:30 PM ET SN One

Tues. Apr. 14

5:30 PM ET SN Pacific, West, Ontario, East

 

 

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