Tag Archives: Aquila Productions

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

 

 

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

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.

 

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

 

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.

BROADCAST SCHEDULE

 

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

 

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: 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

 

 

Edmonton filmmakers create a fine documentary

A face appears on the silver screen. In a close-up. The owner of the face, a Native Canadian, or a First Nations’ member, to be politically correct, looks straight in the camera. His lips start moving. This is what he says: “I am a psychopath.”

Thus opens the documentary film titled Antisocial Inc.

Commissioned by TVO, finished in 2014, 58 minutes long. Written, directed and produced by Rosvita Dransfeld. Filmed by Sergio Olivares. Music supplied by Donald Horsburgh. Edited by Scott Parker.

The audience at Edmonton’s Metro Cinema at Garneau gave the film an enthusiastic response, and deservedly so.

Of course, why it had to be TV Ontario to commission a documentary film made entirely in Alberta, by Albertans, about an Albertan, will remain a sweet mystery. Until we realize that Alberta, Canada’s richest province, somehow hasn’t what one would compare to America’s public broadcasting system. And the country’s public broadcasting network that one would have expected to be a logical outlet for such a documentary is in the throes of licking its self-inflicted economic wounds. It’s trying to figure out what to do with itself. No, you can’t expect the CBC to have either the wherewithal or the basic imagination to go after a work that is really and truly creative.

Simple story

The story is, basically, very simple: a kid is brought up in a rather unacceptably dysfunctional family that serves as his foster home. He becomes a drug dealer and spends a quarter of a century in and out of all kinds of jails and prisons. Eventually, he decides that he’s wasting his life. He does his best to turn it around. Along the way, he meets someone who used to be his childhood neighbour and who takes genuine interest in him as a living person. Having been a loner most of his life, not used to enjoying friendly relationships, but, on the other hand, used to living with the label of an anti-social individual, the hero (Chris is his name) has frightful difficulty with accepting any signs of friendship from anybody.

There’s no happy ending. There’s no tragic ending, either. There’s an ending that shows that life will go on. How it will go on, nobody knows. Least of all the hero.

It’s a documentary film as documentary films should be. It lets the hero tell his own story, it follows him when he is silent, it lets the pictures do the talking, and it takes us places most of us haven’t encountered. Such as jail cells in which the hero had spent more than a few of his days in his past, and which he hopes to avoid from now onwards, as long as he shall live.

This, in and of itself, is an optimistic approach.

The creators spent several years following their hero. He must have got used to their attention. He is not acting. And it’s pretty obvious that a lot of material must have ended on the cutting room floor. By the way, why it is called that when the technology used to record the story was clearly electronic, one can’t fathom. A cliché is a cliché is a cliché.

Luckily (or happily) there are no clichés in this movie.

Moving pictures

On a more personal note, I would like to talk more about the cinematography.

I have known Sergio Olivares for quite a few years. He has been working for Edmonton’s Aquila Productions, covering the Edmonton Oilers and providing wonderful footage for the series Oil Change. These are documentaries following the hockey club’s rare ups and frequent downs during the last four seasons. It has developed a cult-like following. Both in Canada (it airs on Sportsnet) and in the U.S. (it airs on NHL Network).

One of the outstanding features of Oil Change is its crisp, fast and furious storytelling through amazing pictures. It reflects hockey, the fastest team game on earth.

I was wondering, in fact, I was somewhat apprehensive. And I was surprised. Sergio Olivares subordinated his camera work to the story. His pictures not only told the story. They conveyed the emotions behind it. Without any of the modern camera tricks. This was storytelling at its best.

So, Sergio, thanks for inviting me to the screening.

An annoyed question

It has been a nasty habit of organizers of sundry moving pictures theatrical premiere performances to have the creators appear on stage once the curtain had come down, and answer all kinds of questions from the audience. Some of the questions might be intelligent, others might be perfectly stupid. They all have one thing in common: they are perfectly irrelevant.

What do these people expect? Do they want the creators to tell them about all the funny stories that happened on location, during the filming?

The performance either does make sense, or it does not. The creators either did convey their story, or they did not. They either did say what they wanted to say, or they did not.

And so it happened on this night, too. After the audience applauded Antisocial Inc. with justified enthusiasm, some of the creators were invited to come on stage. The room was filled with all kinds of intelligentsia, an unusual crowd for me as I try to avoid such circles at all cost. It was clear that the air would be filled with questions.

It was.

And then it happened. It was bound to happen. The question-and-answer session would sink as low as to have one of those intellectuals ask the producer what she wanted the audience to take home with them, having seen the film.

This was one of those people who, for example, do not live in a marriage because they live within the issue of marital cohabitation, who do not eat because they live solving the problem of consuming edible material, and who do not love because they are examining the question of emotional attraction between two or more individuals. You know this kind people, don’t you?

Anyhow, poor Rosvita Dransfeld thought she had to answer. She explained that she felt that labelling people is frightfully wrong, and for those who have been labelled in any shape or form, it would be preferable if they didn’t accept it.

Why not, right?

She would have been better off if she tore a page from René Clair’s book.

The famous French film director returned to his country from overseas after the Second World War. He made his first postwar film in 1947, Le silence est d’or (Silence is Golden).

When it premiered in Paris, the theatre was crowded. As the French say, tout le Paris. Rough translation: the who-is-who of Paris. Gentlemen in full tails, white ties, with their Legion d’Honneur pins and Académie française insignia shining. Ladies sporting revoltingly revealing cleavage (décolletage, as the French call it), showing almost everything to almost everybody. And the air filled with excited expectation and exciting scent of Chanel No. 5.

Into that, René Clair takes the stage. When all and sundry at long last sit down, he tells them: “Ladies and gentlemen, do not expect any deep thoughts. Do not expect any philosophies. Do not expect, Heaven forbid, any messages.”

After a few seconds of looking around, he turns to the microphone again: “I have only come to entertain you.”

With those famous last words, René Clair leaves the stage (and the building). Presumably to have a quick smoke.

That’s the page Rosvita Dransfeld should have torn from René Clair’s book.

Her film deserved it.

Oil Change bids farewell: only to the season? Or to its viewers, too?

Did you know 83 players dressed for the Edmonton Oilers during the last four seasons?

A shocking number or proof that the club’s management has been trying their darndest? Proof they’ve been working hard to find and assemble the best group of people to return the team to the heights it had enjoyed more than two decades ago?

Almost four full rosters, come to think of it!

That’s the question that pops into one’s mind as the last minutes of this season’s Oil Change documentary series roll by. It aired on Sportsnet Sunday, and will see its first series of repeats Monday, with more re-runs to come.

The final minutes show each of the 83 players get a few seconds of fame, with each player’s name and number of games in Oilers’ uniform in subtitles, with music featuring hints of Auld Lang Syne sounding in the background.

If this doesn’t move an Oilers fan’s heart, nothing will.

Except it raises a question. What is it, after all, this elusive chemistry the Oilers’ architects have been trying to find? What is this something that changes a sports club from an also-run into a contender, a champion, even? Is it really chemistry or, Heavens forbid, alchemy? You know, alchemists, the guys with strange beards, wearing extravagant hats, who keep trying to convince their kings and other nobility that they can change worthless raw materials into gold, develop elixirs of love and create potions that would enhance humankind’s longevity beyond any reasonable limits.

Oil Change does not ask these questions openly, but they are there.

This season’s finale begins with a visit with Ryan Smyth in his own, private and personal, trophy room. It contains all kinds of awards he’s won, And he’s won almost everything there’s to win in professional hockey, with one exception: he only got very close to the Stanley Cup once, but never touched it.

As it follows the last few weeks of the season that was, Oil Change’s subjects (players, coaches) see a bit of silver lining in the final weeks’ results and, especially, style of play. Habits, as head coach Dallas Eakins likes to call it. Whether they are right or whether it’s just another round of grasping for straws, only future will tell. And Oil Change deserves praise because it does not succumb to the temptation of becoming a clairvoyant. It only documents what those who should be in the know say and it accompanies it with pictures of what is actually going on even as the words are spoken.

What does it say? Words are nice but they aren’t worth much until and unless action makes them right.

There’s one interesting segment that might deserve a psychologist’s trained eye. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall, two of the team’s brightest-shining stars, have been trying to find similarities and differences that exist between themselves. A fascinating exercise. Whether the two players’ judgments are on the money or not does not matter. What does matter is we can see how they perceive themselves, each other, and the team.

And that’s what Oil Change has been all about since its inception four long seasons ago. It documents who the people behind headlines (and frequent angry speech on Edmonton’s talk shows) are. To use a cliché: what makes the team tick? What is actually behind the infatuation Edmonton Oilers’ fans feel toward their beloved stars? For crying out loud, the fans must feel like jilted lovers again and again. Season after season lacks success, using a milder expression instead of the straightforward failure.

Considering that psychologists have defined infatuation (and early love) as temporary insanity, one can’t but wonder at the Edmonton Oilers fans’ perseverance.

As has been their habit all along, Aquila Productions’ creative crews have again come up with a gem of documentary filmmaking. They use narration words sparingly, depending much more on pictures, in a fast-paced show that reflects to perfection what kind of game hockey is at its top professional level, and who are the people behind it.

This season’s finale ends, as has become traditional with all Oil Change episodes, with the subtitle line: To be continued …

Will it? Should it?

There are several schools of thought.

One that believes that the creators have covered most of the topics that they could cover, and what they would be doing next season would only be repeating what they had been doing the previous years. Differently perhaps, but nothing new under the sun.

And, besides, people who support this grim school of thought would say, it’s always best to quit while you’re still on top.

A jaded view, that. Ask Edmonton Oilers’ fans whether they want the show to continue. Come to think of it, ask fans of good hockey programming, and fans of good documentary filmmaking, too.

If the Oilers continue struggling, only the fact they are struggling would be old. How and why they struggle still, that would be something new.

Another school of thought holds that a hiatus of about a couple of seasons might be worth the wait. This school’s students hope that, following this summer, the Oilers’ roster will be settled for some time to come, with only a bit of space for minor adjustments. Adherents believe that the real change will happen once the Oilers move to the new arena downtown. And that is, they say, when Oil Change should come back.

Yes, physically speaking, it would be a change. Whether it would be as major as some anticipate remains to be seen.

So, what is the answer? What should it be?

Here’s hoping fans (using all kinds of social media) will tell Aquila, the Edmonton Oilers and Sportsnet that they can hardly wait for the new season of Oil Change.

And, here’s hoping, too, that Aquila, the Edmonton Oilers and Sportsnet will not only listen to what the fans are saying, but hear them, too.

Meanwhile, Oil Change, have a wonderful summer vacation, get some much-needed rest, and come back refreshed, tanned, strong, with your batteries recharged and whatnot, for the delight of your fans.