Category Archives: Hockey Unlimited

Hockey Unlimited: Episode Three shoots and scores again!

Edmontonians who lived through it will never forget it, and neither will those born decades after that fateful day in August, 1988. Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings.

The hockey world would never be the same, quite a few would predict then. If the greatest player of all time can be traded, so can everyone else.

Hockey’s lost its innocence, moaned many, including some Canadian parliamentarians who even would go so far as to urge the government of the day to stop what they described as blatant sellout to the highest bidder (and, potentially, ban such trades from Canada to the U.S. altogether once and for all). As if professional hockey has ever been about innocence and gentlemanly behaviour.

The irony of it all: the Tories under Brian Mulroney were running the show then. They were engaged in a heated battle about their newly negotiated free trade agreement with the U.S. For the record: the Tories would win the federal election later that year, and it was the free trade agreement that was the top topic of the contest. So, how could (or would) they be able to stand in the way of a perfectly legal deal between two willing business entities, such as the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings?

Those who were saying that the world of hockey has changed forever were right. It did in many more ways than one. And one of those ways would come as a pleasant surprise bordering on outright shock a couple of decades later.

How? How about seeing Matthew Nieto of Long Beach, California, selected by the San Jose Sharks 47th overall in the 2011 NHL draft, now a regular in his club’s lineup? What’s so special about him? The kid’s come up all the way through California’s newly burgeoning minor hockey system, something that wouldn’t have happened without Gretzky’s arrival in the La-La Land.

And that’s what the first segment of the third episode of Aquila Productions’ Hockey Unlimited is all about. Broadcast by Sportsnet Tuesday, with a number of repeat airings coming during the next few weeks, this brilliant piece of documentary television shows the numbers of enthusiastic kids playing hockey in all kinds of youth competitions, where they used to engage in baseball, basketball or football. Many other sports would cross their minds at the time, but definitely not hockey. The seeds that Gretzky planted have developed into an Anaheim Ducks’ Stanley Cup, and a couple of Stanley Cup wins by the Los Angeles Kings. Hockey has become an integral part of the vibrant local sports scene.

And, the document shows, if a sport (or any other activity, for that matter) is to grow, it has to rely upon strong grassroots.

Hockey Unlimited takes it one step further: in a brief segment that follows the opener, hockey instructor Steve Serdachny shows one of Gretzky’s patented moves, describes it in detail and shows all and sundry that they can learn it too.

What a catch!

When Manon Rheaume appeared in goal for NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992 and 1993 exhibition games, there were voices that described it as a marketing gimmick for the fledgling franchise, basically telling the young goalie that she must be off her rocker. Well, it seems none of her critics thought of asking her. Hockey Unlimited did. And Manon Rheaume tells her story her own way.

Now 42, and a hockey mom in her own right, living in Detroit, Manon Rheaume’s sons Dylan and Dakoda have both become hockey goalies. The elder, Dylan, has his heart set firmly on blue paint. His younger brother, Dakoda, is still undecided: the left-wing position attracts serious thoughts, too.

Manon Rheaume bristles at the suggestion her Tampa Bay stint was only a gimmick. Not so, she says. It helped her extend her professional career in a number of minor leagues, both in North America and in Europe. It also helped her start her own foundation that now provides scholarships for young female hockey players.

But times have changed, she smiles. When she played professionally with and against men, she would do anything to stop a shot. There used to be guys who genuinely hated being beaten to the punch by a female goaltender. Being stopped by another guy, well, they didn’t like that much, either, but a girl?

Now, when Manon Rheaume sees her own sons going after each shot, no matter how hard, she cringes and her heart beats faster. Moms will be moms. Even moms with one Olympic silver and two world championships gold medals in their cupboards.

And what about those suggestions it was all marketing? Well, as she put it, you still have to go out there and perform.

Who can retire at age 80?

Simon Bennett’s fitness exercise is a proper introduction to the final segment of this episode of Hockey Unlimited. Can you imagine an 80-year-old hockey player calling his 70-year-old teammate a young punk, and the entire club of people their age having some pretty incredible times playing the game they love?

These guys have their own sets of rules. No slap shots, for example, No hitting, either. When one of them happens to fall on the ice, the play stops and teammates and foes help him up again.

And one overwhelming rule: unadulterated fun for everybody concerned.

These guys will remain young for ever. Some of them played when they were kids, then stopped, and now they’re back, some never played organized hockey, some have continued throughout their lives. But they all have one thing in common: while the fastest team game on earth might have slowed down a tad when they are on the ice, it’s the friendships that make it all worth their while. And, their improved health, too.

It’s the wonderful scope that makes the new series, Hockey Unlimited, so special.

Looking at Canada’s pastime from all possible angles, the documentary series speaks of hockey that touches everybody, not only sports teams’ fans. It makes its viewers wish they become active participants. And it’s quite possible it might convince quite a few that now, right now, is the time to grab our pair of skates, find those old hockey sticks, buy a puck or two, and ho for the open spaces!

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.

Hockey Unlimited’s new episode concentrates on family

Family is the cornerstone of society, and it holds true in hockey, too.

The second episode of Hockey Unlimited, Aquila Production’s new half-hour television series for Rogers Sportsnet, concentrates on hockey families.

Premiering on Sportsnet Tuesday, January 20, Hockey Unlimited takes its audiences behind the scenes, presenting Canada’s national sport as a phenomenon worthy of an in-depth look.

One Episode 2 story takes its viewers to witness some down-time away from the rink with the straight-talking, farm-raised Sutter brothers. Brian, Darryl, Duane, Brent, Ron and Rich hold one NHL record that will likely never be broken: an astonishing 5,597 regular season and playoff games between them. The boys and their mom Grace offer their perspective on the family’s secret of success in the game of hockey as they give viewers a tour of the farm, and oversee the fun at their annual Sutter Fund charity golf tournament.

In another feature, Dwight King of the champion Los Angeles Kings, brings the Stanley Cup home for a day the same week that he and his close-knit family, including former NHLer D.J. King, run a popular minor hockey school at the arena on the Flying Dust First Nations Reserve in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan.

Hockey as a sport is quite an expensive endeavour, and this Episode of Hockey Unlimited takes a close look at cost as a barrier to entry into minor hockey for many families.

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

Episode two of Hockey Unlimited will begin airing on most Sportsnet channels Tuesday, January 20th (2:00 p.m. Sportsnet East), with repeat broadcasts at various times over the following two weeks.

Hockey Unlimited: what makes Canada’s hockey tick

It’s all about telling it like it is.

The newest entry into the world of documentary films about hockey premiered on Sportsnet Monday afternoon. It’s going to see a few repeats before part two of Hockey Unlimited appears on the schedule (early December). Just watch for it.

Hockey Unlimited, without talking about it too much, probes into a question that is simple and complex at the same time: Canada is passionate about her hockey, and so are Canadians passionate about their hockey. There’s a world of difference between these two passions. And yet, one can’t exist without the other, and vice versa.

With the NHL game by EA selling like hot cakes, the first installment of Hockey Unlimited goes behind the scenes to find out what exactly it is that makes the game such a fan favourite.

The answer is simple and straightforward: it’s its creators’ passion that does it. The guys who have been creating it grew up on the good old black-and-white pong game. Something today’s young crowd has no idea whatsoever existed. The grown-up crowd might recall the vertical line dividing the screen, the two players represented by two shorter lines, with a ball represented by a roughly-edged dot, and, gee, what kind of progress that was! the score changing whenever either of the players missed.

Compare it to today’s game where they make sure that jerseys reflect the layers’ movements, that reflections in the helmets reflect the arena lighting and that the fans who are taking selfies during games do so using equipment that exists on the market today. And all that in high definition!

The second part is even more interesting.

Imagine a small village in rural Alberta, population just slightly over 300. Known also by its nickname (Home of the first last elevator row in Alberta), seat of Devil’s Coulee Dinosaur Heritage Museum, you can find it some 65 kilometres south of Lethbridge.

With farming becoming more and more industrialized, it’s villages like this that suffer the most. The good people of Warner were watching their future with apprehension. One thing they knew was that no matter what else goes, if their school goes, it’s the end. And that’s when they figured out a way. That’s when the Warner Hockey School, one of the premier girls’ hockey schools in Canada, was born.

It attracts girls from all over the place and the Warner Warriors, a part of the junior girls’ hockey league, have scored quite a few major wins. One of their biggest wins: some of its alumnae have gone on to the best schools on the continent on full hockey scholarships. One even helped her new alma mater win a national championship title by scoring the winning goal.

These girls help keep the Warner school alive. And, by extension, they help keep Warner itself alive.

The Warner Hockey School has Mikko Makela as its general manager and head coach. By the way, here’s the proper way of writing his last name: Mäkelä. But don’t worry, he doesn’t insist on that kind of convoluted spelling.

The name should sound familiar to NHL fans: named The Flying Finn, Makela has more than 400 NHL games on his resume. He also played in Finland and owned a team in his native country. Having married a girl from Lethbridge, he returned to her hometown with her, and – after a brief period of coaching a junior club – he made the move to Warner.

Both sides could have hardly been happier.

This part of Hockey Unlimited tells us more about Canadian hockey’s roots than huge tomes of university research. Including the difference between guys as hockey players and girls in that same role. When he tells guys to do this or that, Makela relates, they would just go and do it. Not so the girls. They would listen to the instruction and then ask a simply major question: why?

There are two more brief segments included in the show. One, narrated by fitness guru Simon Bennett explains how to increase the strength of some of the muscles hockey players need the most. The other shows power skating coach Steve Serdachny explain several hockey moves in detail.

All in all, hockey from all possible angles.

Add to it Aquila Productions’ traditionally sharp camera work, crisp editing and great music selections. On top of it, Sportsnet’s Chris Simpson appears as the show’s host. Chris Simpson has earned her credibility with hockey fans through the years of hard work and she’s very good. The creators have made sure that she doesn’t appear on the screen too often, either: they let their pictures do the talking.

Aquila Productions’ previous major project, Oil Change, has been a huge success. It developed a huge following.

Judging by the first episode, so will Hockey Unlimited.

Hockey knows no bounds: new Sportsnet series by Aquila set to open

Hockey is Canada’s passion.

Psychologists and anthropologists may debate the reasons for this strange phenomenon, but the fact remains (and is worth repeating): hockey is Canada’s passion.

And so, it’s not really a surprise that Edmonton’s own Aquila Productions has come up with a brand new hockey series that will begin airing on Sportsnet Monday, Nov. 24. Hosted by Chris Simpson, Hockey Unlimited will offer ten half-hour segments during this season.

Aquila gave us Oil Change, an award-winning series, that – the producers agreed – has run its course after five seasons. It was a series of behind-the-scenes looks at an NHL team in the throes of rebuilding. Oil Change has quite rightfully developed a following that borders on cult admiration. But you can be rebuilding a team only for so long. And that has been the limitation that the Aquila team has imposed upon themselves.

The new series will be going further and deeper than just the NHL. After all, the title (Hockey Unlimited) says it all. As the producers promise, they are going to follow hockey from its grassroots all the way up: minor, junior, college/university, recreational beer league, women’s, senior amateur, international and all levels of pro hockey.

Sportsnet has become the only guy in town to cover the NHL (with a few regional exceptions thrown in). This series is going to show that the network is seriously aware that without the grassroots, there wouldn’t be any grass. Good for them.

Many seem to think that only men between the ages of 18 and 49 are fanatic enough to spend most (if not all) of their spare time with or around hockey. Considering how many kids of both sexes love the excitement of actually playing the game, this series is bound to discover that hockey, indeed, knows no limitations. That’s how it is in Canada, and this is a Canadian show, aimed at Canadian audiences.

Here’s the plan: each episode of Hockey Unlimited (10 episodes in season one) will include two 8-12 minute documentaries about some significant issue, event, personality or other aspect of hockey. These features will be also accessible, once the show airs, online through live streaming off the Sportsnet site.

Check it out:



Station Date Start Series Episodes
SN Pacific Mon, 11/24/14 14:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN West Mon, 11/24/14 15:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN East Mon, 11/24/14 17:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN Ontario Mon, 11/24/14 17:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN Pacific Mon, 11/24/14 20:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN West Mon, 11/24/14 21:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN East Mon, 11/24/14 0:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN Ontario Mon, 11/24/14 0:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN Pacific Tue, 11/25/14 16:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN West Tue, 11/25/14 17:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN East Tue, 11/25/14 19:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN Ontario Tue, 11/25/14 19:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN Pacific Wed, 11/26/14 10:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN West Wed, 11/26/14 11:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN East Wed, 11/26/14 13:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN Ontario Wed, 11/26/14 13:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN One Wed, 11/26/14 23:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN Pacific Thu, 11/27/14 14:00 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN West Thu, 11/27/14 15:00 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN East Thu, 11/27/14 17:00 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN Ontario Thu, 11/27/14 17:00 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN One Fri, 11/28/14 22:30 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN One Sat, 11/29/14 22:00 Hockey Unlimited 1
SN One Sun, 11/30/14 18:30 Hockey Unlimited 1