True fans know hockey involves more than a 60-minute game. From fictional movies about the sport to highlight reels online, hockey can be found in multiple forms. A number of fascinating documentaries take fans behind the scenes. They provide players a voice. Moreover, these films help situate the sport in the broader social, political, and cultural fabric of the time. A list of documentaries is below. Some are feature-length films, others are shorter efforts. All embrace the sport of hockey. Enjoy.
Feature Length Films
Ice Guardians (2016)
Brett Harvey offers a measured meditation on the role of the slowest guys on the ice. His documentary “Ice Guardians” had a successful opening and received positive reviews. Throughout the film, Brett Harvey makes a case for the role of an enforcer. In sum: fighting mitigates against more serious violence. When cheap shots and dirty play become part of a team’s tactics, players suffer. Enforcers, past and present, describe in excruciating detail the price they paid. Watching them recount their experiences, it is hard not to conclude that they enjoyed every minute. Even those who dislike fighting may feel some empathy for those who go toe to toe. They may even feel some admiration. This is a must watch.
Ice Guardians is available on Netflix
The Last Gladiators (2011)
In this documentary, Academy Award-winning director Alex Gibney features Chris “Knuckles” Nilan. Born and raised in Boston, this enforcer had a simple task: to protect his teammates. The role of the enforcer is unofficial in ice hockey. Their job is basically to deter and respond to violent play by the opposing team. Nilan bears the scars of broken knuckles, lost teeth, torn ligaments, and multiple finger surgeries. Throughout his career, Chris struggled with addiction to drugs and the guilt that comes from harming the people closest to him. Through interviews with dozens of hockey’s toughest guys, the film explores what it means to enforce the unspoken code of the NHL. Watch this film now.
This film is available to watch on Documentary Storm
Leaving the Ice (2012)
In 2011, the hockey world was shaken by the tragic loss of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team. The KHL team was headed to play Dinamo Minsk in Belarus when their plane crashed during takeoff. The documentary “Leaving the Ice” considers the crash and its impact on the city of Yaroslavl. It also highlights how the team was slowly rebuilt. It includes interviews with some of the current Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team members. The film focuses on how the community is rebuilding itself after the accident and emphasizes the impact the loss of the team had on those who were to follow in their footsteps onto the ice.
Montreal Canadiens: Habsology – In Habs We Trust (2010)
The Montreal Canadiens is a storied franchise and one of the “Original Six.” This film examines the history of the Canadiens. It explores the fanaticism of hockey in Quebec. It seeks to answer one of the most debated questions in the province: Can hockey be seen as a religion? The film is produced by a group of Concordia journalism students and includes big hockey celebrities such as Maxime Lapierre, Rejean Houle, and Hal Gill.
MN Hockey: Land of 10,000 Rinks (2017)
This film is a northeastern Minnesota love story. Locals share their infatuation with the sport. They describe the painstaking efforts some go through to ensure outdoor rinks are available to youth every year. Hockey is a way of life in this part of the country. It is a culture those featured in the film are happy to share. Fans of hockey in Minnesota will certainly enjoy this hour. I’m confident other viewers will as well.
Miracle on Ice (1981)
This documentary explores the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s win at the 1980 winter Olympics. The Americans beat the Soviet team. This was a team that included Vladislav Tretiak, Alexander Maltsev, Vladimir Petrov, Vasili Vasiliev, and Valeri Kharlamov. They had all been members of the Soviet team that had played against the NHL All-Stars in the 1972 Summit Series. The Soviets were heavily favored. When the Americans won, they became a team for the ages. The film compares hockey cultures. It combines footage of the game with news footage detailing the political confrontation between the US and USSR which was the backdrop to the one ice battle.
Punched Out: The Rise and Fall of Derek Boogaard (2014)
This documentary on Derek Boogaard focuses on his path to the NHL and the circumstances surrounding his death. The documentary features interviews with Boogaard’s family. It also includes writings from his personal journal. Seeing Boogard’s thoughts in his own writing is powerful and leaves a lasting impression on the viewer. The film also considers chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a medical diagnosis caused by repeated blows to the head. This includes hits, punches, and other events that can cause concussions. It is both fascinating and horrifying to view the damage to Boogaard’s brain.
Red Army (2014)
Red Army tells the story of the Soviet Union national ice hockey team through the eyes of team captain Slava Fetisov. It focuses on the 1980 winter Olympic game in Lake Placid, N.Y. For decades after the Second World War, the Soviet international hockey team ruled the world. His players were literally cold warriors. The film focuses on how the Red Army’s veteran coach Anatoli Tarasov taught his players a fluid artistry of play. Of specific interest is the famed five-man unit known as The Russian Five. The film details the link between sports and politics, ideology and honor. The film also presents the process by which players were wooed by National Hockey League scouts and eventually flooded NHL rosters.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 75+ Years of the Toronto Maple Leafs (2002)
The Toronto Maple Leafs is one of the “Original Six.” This film chronicles Leafs history from its founding in 1917. As of 2017, the Maple Leafs have won thirteen Stanley Cup championships, second only to the twenty-four championships of their primary rival, the Montreal Canadiens. They won their last championship in 1967. The 45-year drought between championships is currently the NHL’s longest. They are the only “Original Six” team which has not won the Stanley Cup championship since the 1960s.
Becoming Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby was born on August 7, 1987, in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. He was successful throughout high school and had a strong junior career. The Pittsburgh Penguins selected Crosby first overall in the 2005 NHL draft. Two years later the club made the 20-year-old the youngest team captain in NHL history. In 2009 he led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup title. This program details the life of NHL start Sidney Crosby both on and off the ice.
Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins
Bobby Orr was born on March 20, 1948, in Parry Sound Ontario. He was such a standout at twelve years of age that the Bruins entered into a seven-year struggle to get him to contract. The film details Orr’s personal background, his training, and his history with the Boston Bruins.
Broad Street Bullies
Broad Street Bullies is not just for fans of the Philadelphia Flyers. It chronicles the team from their start as an NHL expansion team in 1967 to their Stanley Cup finals appearance in 1976. The film shows what it’s like to bring a new NHL team into a city that isn’t sure it wants a team. Over the course of the film, produced by HBO Sports in 2010, the Flyers decide to add muscle to their team. Through the addition of key players, they created a team known as the “Broad Street Bullies.” This fascinating look at the game’s bruisers is both entertaining and informative.
Drop the Gloves
This Vice Sports film focuses on the Ligue Nord-Américaine de Hockey (North American Hockey League). Considered one of the toughest in the world, LNAH audiences are treated to more than four fights per game. The film chronicles the pressure to reduce fighting in the LNAH. Players confront what will this mean for a league whose identity and brand revolved around violence for nearly two decades. VICE followed the Laval Prédateurs during the playoffs. The team struggles to deliver the fights their fans pay to see while trying to step up their game at the same time.
Mario Lemieux was born October 5, 1965, in Montreal Quebec. He played parts of 17 National Hockey League seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins from 1984 to 2006. He assumed ownership in 1999. The Pittsburgh Penguins created this film to honor Lemieux and his contributions on the ice.
Of Miracles and Men
As part of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, this is the precursor to Red Army. Directed by Jonathan Hock, it considers the story of one of the greatest upsets in sports history. Many know of the American collegians that stunned the Soviet national team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. This film focuses on the Soviet side to the famous “Miracle On Ice.” In reality, America’s ideological adversaries were good men and outstanding players. Indeed, it was the genius and passion of Anatoli Tarasov that forged them into the Big Red Machine. Finally, the film considers the shame these players felt after the results of their loss on February 22, 1980.
It is available for rent here.
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