Category Archives: Hockey Unlimited

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.




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



The black art season is upon us, Hockey Unlimited promises

(Updated with detailed broadcast schedule below.)

Remember the Edmonton Oilers selecting Steve Kelly sixth overall in the 1995 NHL draft? The event took place in the Northlands Coliseum (remember THAT place? No? Would the name Rexall Place put it into context?). When then-Oilers’ president and general manager, Glen Sather, and the team’s then-chief scout, Barry Fraser, were mounting the podium, the audience went berserk, demanding the locals select one Shane Doan.

Doan went to the Winnipeg Jets who were selecting seventh. He’s been with them through thick and thin till this day, and he’s still their desert incarnation’s captain in Arizona.

Come to think of it, Edmonton native Jarome Iginla went 11th overall in that same draft, straight to the Dallas Stars, only to be traded to the Calgary Flames for Joe Nieuwendyk.

Where’s Steve Kelly now? Retired, that’s where, after achieving the unpleasant title “underachiever,” never playing more than a half of a season for any given NHL team, going through the German DEL hockey league all the way to the AHL, and ending his career there, following an injury.

Whether it was Kelly’s pure bad luck is irrelevant now. The only thing that matters is that, in hindsight, his selection in the first round was a mistake.

A mistake? After all, as we all know, hindsight is 20-20.

Again, it depends on your point of view.

In 1993, the Ottawa Senators have selected Alexandre Daigle first overall. They were so ecstatic to have landed him, they gave him an outrageous salary by the standards of the day, forcing the league to introduce more or less sensible limitations on rookie income (entry-level contract, as we know it now).

Daigle became famous right then and there. Not so much for his hockey prowess but, rather, for his frightfully idiotic statement that he’s happy to be picked first because, you know, who remembers the guy selected second.

Hartford Whalers (today’s Carolina Hurricanes, for the uninitiated) were selecting second. Chris Pronger was their choice.

Who of the two has achieved more? A rhetorical question.

This being its last installment for this season, Hockey Unlimited’s eighth episode opens with what it calls the science and black art of scouting.

Remember, the regular season will be almost over on the day Rogers Sportsnet airs this episode, Thursday, April 9. (See broadcast schedule below for further broadcast times.) The playoffs will be upon us, but so will be the draft lottery, and, ultimately, the draft itself.

Even with today’s use of advanced statistics and other hugely involved tools of what their priests call the analytics, teams are selecting real, living people, hoping they’re finding a series of gems in the rough. This, in and of itself, makes the draft a hit-and-miss proposition, easily comparable to guessing the sex in one-day-old chicken. Winning over one-armed bandits in casinos carries more probability than picking the right player.

And that even with the hoopla about the so-called “generational players,” such as Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel this season.

Teams that place first and second in the draft lottery should be very careful about what they wish for. Just to refresh your memory: the abovementioned Alexandre Daigle carried the same “generational” label.

Having an insider take us through the maze of trying to find big-league talent is going to make this an interesting segment, for sure.

It is quite logical that, following this insider look into the NHL draft, the second segment of Hockey Unlimited is going to concentrate on a school that has produced so many hockey stars.

It’s known as Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. Founded in 1927 by a visionary Roman Catholic priest, Père (Father) James Athol Murray, Notre Dame has given us stars like Curtis Joseph, Wendel Clark, Vincent Lecavalier, Tyler Myers and Jaden Schwartz, among many others. Located in the relatively small village of Wilcox, Saskatchewan, this high school academy has been developing the spirits, minds and bodies of its students since its inception.

The school’s alumni have remained “hounds for life,” as the second segment of the season’s final episode of Hockey Unlimited shows.

It wouldn’t be Aquila Productions if they didn’t find a hockey story that puts the whole thing into perspective.

Noah Fayad, a 14-year-old player on the St. Albert Sabres AAA Bantam team in the Edmonton Major Bantam Hockey League, has been stricken by leukemia. His quietly courageous battle against this disease has inspired both his teammates and his opponents alike.

Fayad’s battle has helped create a special bond between him and the Sabres’ young assistant coach Brady Reid, who lost his father John to the same disease when he was about Noah’s age. As has become the series’ tradition, Hockey Unlimited will again offer viewers valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

Episode eight of Hockey Unlimited will begin airing on multiple Sportsnet channels on April 9, with repeat broadcast at various times over the following week preceding the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (See broadcast schedule below for further broadcast times.)




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

Hockey Unlimited tackles kids’ bodychecking issue head-on

A good documentary does not shy away from issues that are bound to create controversy. Indeed, a good documentary does not shy away from issues that already are controversial, either.

But, at the same time, a good documentary is perfectly willing to give voice to all sides in the argument.

Hockey Unlimited is a very good documentary.

Episode 7 that aired Monday on Rogers Sportsnet, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for later (see schedule below), opened with a serious look at an issue that has split Canada’s hockey community beyond belief. When should young players be permitted to engage in bodychecking?

Hockey Canada says not before they’ve outgrown their peewee level.

The Saskatchewan hockey association says not so.

Hockey Canada is basing its decision on parents’ fears. Those fears are based on NHL-level hits, repeated on television in super-slow motion over and over again, ad nauseam. We all know the consequences of such events, often career-ending, and quite frequently having dreadful impacts on players’ lives long after their careers have ended.

As Tom Renney – who heads Hockey Canada – put it, his organization is responsible to its members. As it should be, of course.

Except, Saskatchewan hockey people say they are responsible to their members, too, and their members agree with their view that teaching kids this age the art of bodychecking will make their later hockey lives easier for them.

The Saskatchewan hockey people support their views with findings from sports medicine experts, including specialists in kinesiology. They say what kids need is for someone to teach them the art of safe bodychecking. And they’re not merely talking about it. They are holding clinics for coaches, teaching them how to teach bodychecking right.

It seems the gap is in the definition. Where Hockey Canada sees bodychecking as a martial art always linked with a huge hit that sends the victim head-first into the boards or the victim performing a salto mortale (full somersault) in the middle of the ice surface, Saskatchewan hockey association sees it as an ability to insert one’s body between the opposing puck carrier and the puck, with the objective of taking the puck away.

Hockey Unlimited does not go out to say so openly: it is a documentary, after all. But it gives its viewers sufficient amount of information to form their own decision.

Speaking of peewee hockey, its international tournament in Quebec City is now 55 years old and still going strong.

Hockey Unlimited’s segment on this event doesn’t show us only what’s going on on the ice inside the Colisee. It takes us backstage and introduces us to numerous volunteers who make the tournament the success that it has been since its inception in 1960.

They don’t use fancy computers to capture and type-out everything. An old typewriter has seen such names as Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Rick Nash and Steven Stamkos among the 1,200 players who would excel in the NHL. It still works when volunteers are typing out game sheets. The idea is simple and straightforward: why spend money on office equipment when you can spend it on making your players’ experience unforgettable?

The players are happy that they play against some strong opposition, and that they play in front of thousands of fans who fill the seats in the good, old Colisee, no matter who’s playing whom. Considering, especially, that many of them are used to playing whenever their local arenas are free, in front of their parents and closest family members only, seeing such huge crowds borders on the overwhelming, but it’s wonderful fun, the players say.

And you can feel everybody’s enthusiasm just come across from the Colisee right into your living room (or wherever you’re watching).

Just as you can feel the enthusiasm coming across from players who brave blizzards and crazy temperatures to play hockey at the self-styled World Pond Hockey Championships.

Official pomposity purists might suggest it would have to be happening under the auspices of the International Ice Hockey Federation ((IIHF) to be able to call itself the world championships, but participants do not care. The more players come, the merrier. That’s all that matters. And they DO come from all over the world, with the possible exception of the Antarctica. Come to think of it, how many teams from that continent have we seen at IIHF events, anyhow?

It’s a beer-league event to end all beer-league events, attracting players from all over the world. Staged on the Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, the number of players easily doubles the number of people who live there. That the beer flows quite freely is quite obvious when the teams face the camera to introduce themselves, but the hockey is free-wheeling, too, and the handshakes and hugs that follow the games are genuine.

And when the weather gets worse, and the temperatures dip, so much the better, the Aquila Productions documentary shows. How many people can claim they scored a game-deciding goal in a blizzard with temperatures hovering around mins-30 Celsius?

You can add to it another question: how many camera crews would brave these elements the way the Aquila Productions’ crew has? After all, these guys weren’t keeping warm skating, and in good mood drinking beer. They were there to document others doing it, and what a great job of documenting they have done!

Useful tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills tips from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny have become Hockey Unlimited’s tradition; they make the show complete.

Broadcast schedule:

Mon. Mar. 30

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

Wed. Apr. 1

9:30 PM PT (12:30 AM ET) SN Ontario, SN East, SN Pacific

Fri. Apr. 3

12:30 PM ET SN One

Kids’ bodychecking: Yes? No? Hockey Unlimited joins the debate

Should Hockey Canada have banned bodychecking at peewee hockey level?

It did so a couple of years ago, and only the Saskatchewan hockey association had the guts to say it found the decision weak-kneed and frightfully un-hockey-like.

Whether Saskatchewan youth hockey poohbahs were right or wrong remains to be seen: it’s too early to be coming up with definitive answers.

But Hockey Unlimited has entered the fray to see why the proponents of young players’ bodychecking believe what they do. And here’s what they believe: properly taught, bodychecking actually makes the full contact game safer for kids as they get older.

Airing Monday, March 30 on Rogers Sportsnet, with repeat broadcasts to follow (see schedule below), Hockey Unlimited again promises to deliver thought-provoking sports documentary programming.

Hockey, no matter whether it is in whatever organized or somewhat disorganized form, just happens to be part of Canada’s national fabric. To prove this point, the Aquila Productions documentary will show two events that run at about the same time and that can hardly be more different.

In 1960, hockey organizers in Quebec City have come up with a brilliant idea. The Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament has become the largest minor hockey tournament in the world. Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Steven Stamkos have been among the 1,200 former and current NHL players to experience it. Kids rub shoulders with top teams of 11- and 12-year-old players from all over the world: Canada and the U.S., Europe, Asia and even Australia.

You won’t find too many future NHL stars at the World Pond Hockey Championships, however. The beer league event to end all beer league events attracts players from all over North America, but it brings guys from London, England, too,

Just imagine these gentlemen of all ages, clearing off snow on Roulston Lake in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick, so they can face off in games more hotly contested than Stanley Cup’s games seven in fifteenth overtime. Except, instead of NHL teams’ trainers ordering pizza for every second intermission, beer flows on Roulston Lake as if there was no tomorrow. Unlike the often concussed professionals, frostbite and hangovers are the main risk to players here.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be Hockey Unlimited without tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

Broadcast schedule:

Mon. Mar. 30

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

Wed. Apr. 1

9:30 PM PT (12:30 AM ET) SN Ontario, SN East, SN Pacific

Fri. Apr. 3

12:30 PM ET SN One

Sportsmanship equals respect: Hockey Unlimited’s Episode 6

There are many ways how to show that handicapped people can do things many would have thought impossible. Most of them patronizing. Only one of them correct: respectful. That’s exactly how Hockey Unlimited portrayed sledge hockey players.

Episode 6 that aired Monday on Sportsnet and will see a number of repeats (see schedule below) opens with a segment portraying Canada’s top sledge hockey players.

While there are several players who decided to engage in this kind of hockey just for the sheer pleasure of it, most sledge hockey players have joined because they had no other option. Illnesses or injuries wouldn’t let them play hockey any other way.

And yet, none of them complains: why me? What have I done to deserve such fate?

A few of them share some of their feelings that overwhelmed them when they thought there would be no way to play their favourite game ever again, but all of them decided to tackle the fate.

They found new friends, new joys and, while they are at it, they enliven the Hockey From a Low Angle segment by showing us some of the tricks of their trade, tricks that make sledge hockey such an exciting sport.

The next segment, The Name Game, belongs under the heading: did you know?

Yes, most hockey players, perfectly aware of who’s paying their wages, would stop and sign autographs when asked by fans. Most fans keep the signed photograph or ticket stub or what have you as a memento: I’ve met this hockey star, we shook hands, we have exchanged a couple of words, even, and he was nice enough to sign this for me.

But sports memorabilia is big business, too. There are companies that pay hockey players good money for their autographs, be it on cards, photographs, jerseys, sticks, whatever other pieces of equipment come to mind. These companies then sell the memorabilia to all and sundry, and you can bet your last dollar that they are not losing money in the process.

And then there are memorabilia fanatics. Janet and Dale’s basement is a real gallery, with all kinds of hockey-related artifacts worth in hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There exists a saying that women are too rational to become avid collectors of anything, from postage stamps to, say, ancient china. Or from beer mugs to, say, goalies’ catching gloves.

Either the saying has got it frightfully wrong, or Janet is an incredible exception.

One thing that drives this nice couple is that they have got most (if not all) of the stuff that adorns their basement by being there. If there’s an event, they’ll make a point of showing up, and they have proof: entry tickets are attached to whatever exhibit they have obtained there.

No, Hockey Unlimited does not reveal whence the intrepid couple come.

And no, Janet and Dale’s collection is not for sale.

Another thing that’s not for sale is health. One of the most frequent injuries in hockey (give or take a concussion or two) is damage done to players’ knees.

Just remember names such as Bobby Orr, Cam Neely or Pavel Bure. Their stellar careers were cut short because of knee injuries that even the most advanced medicine of their times could not repair sufficiently to allow them to return to the game they all loved.

Times have changed beyond belief.

A segment called Saving Knees explains, first and foremost, what kind of knee injuries are typical for hockey players, what kind of impact they have, and what modern medicine can do about them.

It used to be that surgeons had to open a player’s knee wide, trying to re-attach what had been torn and attempt to perform miracles. A player would then spend at least a week in the hospital, and the rehabilitation would be not only slow and painful, but – most often – unsuccessful.

Nothing like that any longer. Arthroscopic surgery allows surgeons to enter the injured area through small incisions, seeing everything inside on a television screen, work to their hearts’ content and send the player home within hours after they left him in stitches.

What has also changed tremendously is the rehabilitation process. Modern equipment lets therapists see exactly what’s going on and where in the player’s body, allowing them to adjust the special exercises accordingly.

A player is back in the game within six months, as compared to never just a few years ago.

Surgeons explain in considerable detail just what they are doing, and a real player who has gone through the experience (Ryan Smyth) explains what it takes for a player to feel really comfortable following all this healing process, what it takes to overcome fears that the injury can come back.

Steve Serdachny’s on-ice tricks and Simon Bennett’s dry-land exercises complete the half-hour show.

If there is one special thing that distinguishes Aquila Productions’ documentaries, it’s respect. It’s respect for both the people they show, and for the people they show their heroes to. That their tradecraft is impeccable has been a long-established tradition: from camera work through editing to music selections, from story selection to approach to handling their topics, Aquila Productions’ body of work should attract the Hockey Hall of Fame’s attention.



Mon. Mar. 23

3 PM ET SN One
9:30 PM PT (12:30 AM ET) SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

Tues. Mar. 24

1 PM ET SN Ontario, SN East
3:30 PM ET SN One

Thurs. Mar. 26

3:30 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East

Never give up, Hockey Unlimited’s next episode will tell us

We all have heard about career-ending injuries. But there are people among us who would never give up.

The sixth episode of the documentary series, Hockey Unlimited, opens with a story about exactly this kind of people. Premiering on Rogers Sportsnet on Monday, March 23, it will run on the network for the next couple of weeks.

Produced by Edmonton’s own Aquila Productions, the first segment of Hockey Unlimited, Episode 6, will introduce us to a group of high-performance athletes from across the country. They have overcome serious illnesses and accidents to play sledge hockey. We will meet Canada’s national team, a group of people who engage in hard-hitting, fast-paced and ultra-competitive Hockey From a Low Angle.

It takes all kinds to people this earth. Some of us wouldn’t be able to remember a thing from the past if they didn’t have a memento. You know the saying: been there, done that, got the t-shirt, right? This strange urge gave birth to intensive memorabilia trade, and sports memorabilia have become a major part of it. The segment named The Name Game introduces us to a couple of memorabilia aficionados. They are Dale and Janet, and their basement has become a veritable fan cave. A personal sports memorabilia shrine, even.

No, the series will not reveal their address.

Whenever we debate the greatest hockey players of all time, Bobby Orr’s name comes up with unsurprising regularity. Most lists of potential candidates for the title (honourable as it is) will include such names as Cam Neely or Pavel Bure. What do all these guys have in common? Their careers ended prematurely because of major knee injuries.

It must be a matter of general regret that today’s methods of treatment didn’t exist then, when these players suffered the pain and anguish of ruined knees. The Hockey Unlimited segment called Saving Knees will introduce us to modern surgical methods, such as arthroscopy, as well as state-of-the-art sports rehabilitation medicine. More and more players whose careers would have been ruined just a scant couple of decades ago are returning to play the game they love.

And of course, we will get to see and enjoy valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

So remember to tune in to Sportsnet Monday, March 23, and check your local listings for repeat broadcasts, too.

NHL dreaming, Hockey Unlimited fifth episode’s focus

Mechta” is the Russian word Yakov Trenin used.

It means: dream.

That is the reason he, along with many others, has moved several thousand of miles (kilometres, if you wish) away from home, to play in North American junior leagues. These kids hope that an NHL scout is going to notice them, like them enough to go to bat for them at the NHL draft, and they’re going to make it all the way to the show.

They are perfectly aware that a chance of THAT happening if they stayed at home would border on the improbable.

Whether they will make it or not is another question. Even if they don’t, they’re going to return home stronger men.

But their dreams have some pretty solid foundations. Such as: they must have been good in their respective age categories. The North American junior teams wouldn’t have drafted and brought them over if they weren’t.

Hockey Unlimited, an Aquila Productions’ documentary series aired on Rogers Sportsnet Monday, March 2, with repeat broadcasts scheduled for the next couple of weeks (see detailed schedule below). In its fifth episode, Hockey Unlimited opens with a very careful, sensitive and sensible look at a couple of guys, kids, really, who have made the jump.

The abovementioned Yakov Trenin came all the way from Chelyabinsk. The place is home to Traktor, a Russian KHL club. Yet, not even the potential perspective of playing for his hometown team would change young Yakov Trenin’s dream. He knows, obviously, that to be the best, he has to compete with the best.

Yakov Trenin now skates with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The other kid featured in this episode of Hockey Unlimited, Edgars Kulda, shares Trenin’s ambition. He came from the capital of Latvia, the ancient and beautiful city of Riga, all the way to a brand new place (everything is relative) called Edmonton. Where Riga’s roots reach to the 2nd century of the past millennium, in Edmonton, everything that comes close to being a century old is a historical artefact. Kulda, too, could have tried to make his hometown KHL team, Dinamo. His ambition aimed higher.

Nothing wrong with that.

Kulda, now an important part of WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, has made the first step: the Arizona Coyotes have selected him in the seventh round, 193rd player overall, in the 2014 draft. Only one step remains: making it out of the Coyotes’ camp.

These two guys are similar. To a degree. And Hockey Unlimited, without saying it, notices these differences in careful detail. Where Trenin is a shy newcomer, a greenhorn, Kulda is a grizzled veteran. A 2014 Memorial Cup MVP, Kulda comes across as a self-assured kind of guy. Where Trenin still has a bit of difficulty finding the right words to express correctly in English what he wanted to say in Russian, Kulda is firing away with undisguised gusto as if he was born speaking English, with a mistake here and there.

In addition to talking to both guys’ coaches and teammates, Hockey Unlimited gives considerable space to the billets with whom these kids are staying. The loving relationships between the kids and their surrogate parents are obvious. But the billets’ ability to pinpoint these two guys’ character strengths and weaknesses is refreshing.

The next segment of this episode of Hockey Unlimited is perfectly logical.

Player agents don’t appear all of a sudden in players’ lives. They’ve been watching the playing phenoms with at least as much interest as NHL scouts. They reach out to players whom they consider safe investment, nurturing their relationships with both the players and their families. They do all that for free, in the hopes that when their client would make the NHL, they would negotiate a rich contract for him, and their percentage would be a nice return on their investment.

All fine and dandy. Still, it’s refreshing to hear Don Meehan, one of the most powerful player agents in the business today. He’s pretty straightforward when he explains that there might come a time in a player’s career when it would be a good player agent’s job to sit down with him and ask him whether his ambition is limited to playing on an NHL club’s farm team, or whether the time has come to look at other options.

Which brings us neatly to the third story: Wes Goldie became the all-time leading scorer in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL). He helped the Alaska Aces win the Kelly Cup. He made it all the way to NHL teams’ training camps twice during his career. That would be as far as he would be able to get.

Wes Goldie has retired and he’s repaying his wife and his four children for all the sacrifices they made during his career.

Was it illustrious? You bet. You don’t have to win all of the NHL’s annual awards to have an illustrious hockey career.

Wes Goldie tells his story with enthusiasm that is quite justified. And his family is, just as justifiably, proud of him and his achievements. His career didn’t make him filthy rich. Not so far as his bank account is concerned. But it made him a wiser man. And that should count for something.

As has become its useful habit, Hockey Unlimited also features valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.

In addition to its brilliant tradecraft, wonderful camera work, editing, music and overall sound selection, Hockey Unlimited’s choice of stories shows that its creators know and love their topics, their heroes, as well as being perfectly aware of the role hockey plays in the everyday life fabric of so many Canadians.

Three cheers! And five stars, too.




Mon. Mar. 2 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN Ontario
Mon. Mar. 2 10:30 PM PT (1:30 AM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 10:30 AM PT (1:30 PM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN One
Fri. Mar. 6 Noon PT (3 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Fri. Mar. 6 11:30 PM PT (2:30 AM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Tues. Mar. 10 10 AM PT (1 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East


And, as the usual television saying goes, check your local listings to confirm program updates

What it takes to make it: Hockey Unlimited’s fifth episode will explore junior players’ courage

Coming to Canada, having crossed the Big Pond (a.k.a. the Atlantic Ocean) to pursue one’s dreams takes a lot of courage.

The fifth episode of Aquila Productions’ documentary series, Hockey Unlimited, focuses on two such brave young men. Their dream is to make the NHL, and they are now honing their skills in Canada’s major junior leagues.

This episode of Hockey Unlimited airs first on Monday, March 2, on Rogers Sportsnet (see detailed schedule below), with repeats coming up during the following week.

A Long Way From Home, that’s where Yakov Trenin finds himself. Just check the distance between Chelyabinsk, Russia and Quebec’s Gatineau. It’s more than eight thousand kilometres.

A rookie with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Trenin has been giving a good account of himself. Whether it’s good enough for him to land the coveted NHL job, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, Latvian Edgars Kulda, last year’s Memorial Cup MVP, is more than seven thousand kilometres away from home. A third-year player with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, he’s considered talented enough to make it to the show.

Hockey Unlimited speaks to both players, and their billet parents, coaches and teammates. We get a close insight into what it’s like to risk it all while pursuing one’s dreams.

Let’s Do Lunch is the name of the second episode.

Most players (and general managers) in the professional leagues will agree that it makes good sense for players to have others represent them. Especially during contract negotiations: the player thinks so highly of himself he’s close to believing he’s the Second Coming, while the general manager, trying to meet his budget, will maintain it’s only his generosity that drives him to keep that player gainfully employed playing hockey. Besides, today’s contracts are filled with legalese, and so is a professional athlete’s life in general. Just imagine paying taxes on the millions you’ve made a season.

That’s where player agents come in. They take the brunt of respective general managers’ stinginess. They know how to spread your income over more years so that your taxes due become at least a tad more palatable. And they can do a lot of other things for the players they represent.

But the relationship has to start somewhere. And that’s what this chapter is all about: following player agents as they approach AAA Bantam- and Midget-age hockey players who come to their attention as promising young prospects and prospective clients.

Not all that glitters turns out to be gold. But even if you don’t become a millionaire several times over, playing hockey for at least some money can be rewarding, too.

I Was A Hockey Player profiles Wes Goldie, the all-time leading scorer in the East Coast Hockey League. Goldie never got rich or particularly famous as a minor league pro, but it’s clear from this heartwarming story that he has no regrets about the game, nor should he.

And, as always, Hockey Unlimited features valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.




Mon. Mar. 2 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN Ontario
Mon. Mar. 2 10:30 PM PT (1:30 AM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 10:30 AM PT (1:30 PM ET) SN One
Thurs. Mar. 5 9 PM PT (Midnight ET) SN One
Fri. Mar. 6 Noon PT (3 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Fri. Mar. 6 11:30 PM PT (2:30 AM ET) SN Pacific, SN West
Tues. Mar. 10 10 AM PT (1 PM ET) SN Pacific, SN West, SN Ontario, SN East


And, as the usual television saying goes, check your local listings to confirm program updates

To be or not to be? Newest Hockey Unlimited episode lets young players answer the question

There’s a world of difference between illusions and ideals. While we should be ready and perfectly willing to ditch illusions whenever we realize we’re only dreaming in Technicolor, we should be defending our ideals to the last breath.

Thus the accepted wisdom.

Here’s the issue: how do we distinguish the former from the latter?

Youth hockey is not only an expensive proposition. Not only is the equipment beyond the reach of many families, the cost of renting rinks for practices and games can add amounts that make the sport virtually impossible to join. And yet, if future players ever learn what it takes to find success, it’s precisely in the ranks of youth hockey. But the questions do not stop with costs. Eventually, players, parents and (to a degree) coaches face tough moments that see youth hockey’s participants at a crossroads. Many questions, and only one of the several potentially possible answers is correct.

This is the challenge many (or, to be more precise, most) midget league hockey players, their parents and their coaches face. Is the kid a bona fide future NHL superstar? Is the kid a bona fide future honest worker at whatever profession his education takes him?

That’s one of the main topics the fourth episode of the new documentary, Hockey Unlimited, has set to explore. Aired on Sportsnet Monday (with a number of repeat broadcasts to come, check your local listings or below), the Aquila Productions’ show digs deep into the issue and brings in people who have both the knowledge and the experience.

Ken Campbell of The Hockey News has done a lot of research on the topic, and his insights have been of great value to the show, but what took the cake were the honestly shared personal experiences of both the parents and the players.

It’s one thing to enroll your kid into youth hockey, in hopes he would learn a thing or two that might come useful in life, and it’s a completely another matter once the kid is accepted. You become a part of a system, and the system puts some pretty tough demands on both its players and their families. And one only realizes whether these demands and requirements are reasonable after a few seasons had gone by and the players and their families have to figure out whether it is at all worth their while to continue.

Interestingly enough, it was the players themselves who were the most realistic people of all present when it got to assessing their capabilities and future endeavours. It takes a lot of courage for a player to look straight into a television camera, knowing his words are being recorded, and say, I know that I’m not going to make it as a professional athlete. Now’s the time to become serious about my education because there’s life after hockey, too. And they weren’t bitter about it, either. They told Hockey Unlimited’s cameras that they had formed friendships some of which they bet would become life-long, and they learned a lot about sportsmanship, and they got into pretty awesome physical shape, to boot.

It would have been beyond the scope of Hockey Unlimited to answer the next question: is there anything wrong with the system? And if there is, can we fix it? And if we can fix it, how do we go about it?

Why beyond the scope? Because Hockey Unlimited is a documentary. A frightfully good documentary, to be sure, but it’s not the role of such works to answer questions. It’s within their mandate to ask them. That’s all. Asking tough questions is a tough job as it is. Hockey Unlimited does that.

Hockey goes multicultural

It’s one thing to see that there’s regular broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada in the Punjabi language; it’s an altogether different thing to see kids of Punjabi origin learning not only to skate, but to play hockey, too.

This is what’s happening, and Hockey Unlimited takes us right into the heart of things. As the various community leaders say, this is all part of their people becoming Canadian. That includes not only learning and accepting traditional Canadian values, but also taking part in traditional Canadian sports activities.

And is there a more Canadian sports activity than hockey?

From a practical standpoint, how many opportunities does the usual Canadian climate offer for people to indulge in, say, cricket, rugby or soccer?

A rhetorical question if there ever was one.

Just as many watched in awe when players of, say, Korean or Lebanese origin made it all the way to the NHL, it’s obvious the day a player whose parents had come to Canada from India makes it all the way up is not that far away, too.

One question begs an answer: will there be, say, East Indian community-based hockey teams first, or will the kids have enough courage to take on all comers in teams that reflect the wonderful mosaic that is Canada?

Judging by the pictures Hockey Unlimited has shown us, the latter option is correct. A wonderful development that shows how the sport of hockey can bring the nation together at active grassroots levels, perhaps even more than just staring at television screens, watching hockey in the Olympic Games.

A thinking girl’s game

What do the girls who keep making their country proud at sundry Olympic hockey tournaments and world championship events do when there’s no such event happening?

Why, most of them play hockey.

Except: most of them do not return to hockey as their profession. They go back to various schools, colleges and universities, in order to pursue their education and play the game they love in their spare time. Only a tiny minority have decided to turn professional and found employment with the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. Founded in 2007, this league consists of five teams: two are based in Ontario, one in Quebec, one in Alberta and one in Boston, of all places.

There have also been other leagues catering to women’s hockey, but the Canadian Women’s Hockey league has had the most clout amongst all of them.

There are a few issues, and Hockey Unlimited lists the most important challenges the women’s league faces. For example, it is a bit of a stretch to call the players professional. The original plan had the league responsible for all travel, ice rental and uniform costs, plus some equipment, but player salaries weren’t included in the plan. This means that the players, mostly college or university graduates, have found jobs in companies that let them start their weekends early Friday so they can travel to their games. They play a number of games over the weekend, only to return home late Sunday (or early Monday) and be in the office by the time their work schedule kicks in.

Living like that shows real commitment.

The league has been trying to find sponsors who would provide enough support for the female players to become really professional athletes.

It is, obviously, a tough job: sponsors have to be convinced women’s hockey attracts a sufficient number of eyeballs to make it worth their while, but to reach that status, women’s hockey needs a strong enough financial backing to promote the game amongst the uninitiated. While it looks like the proverbial vicious circle from the outside looking in, it seems they are making steps in the right direction. They even got such a well-known hockey personality as Brian Burke on board, to help promote their game.

Of course, a philosopher might ask the most provocative question: why is it that we eye professional athletes with love and adoration that should be reserved for other professions? Teachers or nurses come to mind as worthy candidates. Still, if we resign ourselves to just acknowledging that this is how it is, the next question would be: where’s the fairness in all this?

Except: professional sports are (and should be) market-driven entities. No government fiat can help the professional female hockey players. But less shortsightedness and more imagination by potential sponsors would go a long way.

Useful features

As has become usual with Hockey Unlimited, hockey coach Steve Serdachny and fitness guru Simon Bennett teach viewers wonderful tricks, both on the ice and in the gym.

Remember when there’s a television commercial showing, for example, a driver negotiating sharp curves along a high-mountain-level off-road path, and the commercial says the guy we’re watching is a professional driver and he’s doing it on a closed circuit? Or some other attractive activity happening right before our astonished eyes, with a mysterious voice telling us not to try it at home?

Both Serdachny and Bennett are asking us to try what they’re showing us. At home or on the community rink ice. And they make sure to show their tricks in sufficient detail so as to keep us safe.

Hockey Unlimited itself is one of the most useful pieces of programming. It takes its viewers back stage of professional hockey, it shows us the sport in all of its beauty and excitement, and it challenges its viewers to get off their couches, shed their potato skins, and get healthier by becoming more active.

As has been Aquila Productions’ trademark, Hockey Unlimited tells its stories well, to the point, with great camera work, letting the pictures speak for themselves, and letting their heroes tell their stories.



Feb. 16

12:30 AM ET SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

Feb. 18

8 PM ET SN One

Feb. 21

4:30 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

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12:30 PM ET SN One

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Mar. 1

Midnight ET SN One


Minor hockey players’ growing pains: next Hockey Unlimited topic

Not every kid who takes to the ice to play for a team in their neighbourhood, becomes an NHL star. But almost every kid who takes to the ice to play for a team in their neighbourhood dreams of becoming an NHL star.

Some dreams are more realistic than others, and Hockey Unlimited looks at dreams, and what they mean for the overall health of Canadian hockey. Its fourth episode premieres on Rogers Sportsnet on Monday, Feb. 16 (see schedule below). This Aquila Productions’ documentary digs deep to find what makes hockey relevant to Canadians young and old.

Realistically speaking, how many kids who spend their childhoods playing for the incredible variety of AAA teams, will end up in the NHL? And yet, their parents sacrifice their bank accounts, their sleep, and their spare time to have their children play the fastest team game on earth.

Is it all worth it?

Veteran hockey writer Ken Campbell, he of The Hockey News, takes a hard look at the question. After all, Campbell co-wrote (with Jim Parcels) a serious study on the subject in their book, Selling the Dream: How Hockey Parents and Their Kids Are Paying the Price for Our National Obsession. AAA hockey is too expensive, and too obsessed with results. Instead of skating and just having fun, kids are playing games all over the place, and the games are mostly of the life-and-death variety.

Is there any logic in this whatsoever? Campbell and Hockey Unlimited tackle this question with all of the seriousness it deserves – and it deserves a lot of it.

When people from all over the world come to Canada, many bring with them their old countries’ pastimes. Cricket, rugby football, association football (soccer for the uninitiated), you name it. And then you’re walking past a community hockey rink and see a kid whose facial features clearly reveal her or his Middle Eastern heritage, skating around with abandon and shooting pucks with gusto. And why not? Nazem Kadri, whose family moved to Canada from Lebanon, is now playing in the NHL with the Toronto |Maple Leafs. If Kadri could, why not others, too?

Hockey goes multicultural not only in the NHL that brings in best players from wherever it can find them. It goes multicultural on the minor hockey level, too. This is what the second segment of Hockey Unlimited’s fourth episode is all about.

The entire nation is glued to television screens when Canada’s girls defend their numerous world and Olympic titles. But what are they doing when there’s no world championship tournament going on and the next Olympic Games are still a few years away? Many play in sundry universities, working on all kinds of degrees while enjoying hockey scholarships. Many play in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League, a competition whose pioneering efforts give a professional opportunity to elite women players in North America.

And that’s what this episode of Hockey Unlimited shows in its third story.

And, of course, Hockey Unlimited wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t offer valuable tips on hockey fitness from high-performance personal trainer Simon Bennett and on-ice skills from NHL instructor Steve Serdachny.




Feb. 16

12:30 AM ET SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

Feb. 18

8 PM ET SN One

Feb. 21

4:30 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

Feb. 22

1 PM ET SN One
2 PM ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

Feb. 23

7:30 PM ET SN One

Feb. 26

12:30 PM ET SN One

Feb. 27

Midnight ET SN Pacific, SN West, SN East, SN Ontario

Mar. 1

Midnight ET SN One