Based on Bill Keenan’s best-selling memoir of the same name, Odd Man Rush presents a humorous, self-deprecating look at the realities of playing minor professional hockey in Europe in pursuit of reaching the NHL. The film centers on Bobby Sanders, inspired by Keenan, as he chases his NHL dream through the German and Swedish leagues. Led by Jack Mulhern and Dylan Playfair (Letterkenny), Odd Man Rush features a cast with deep hockey connections that includes Wayne Gretzky’s son, Trevor, Mario Lemieux’s daughter, Alexa, former Calgary Flames head coach Jim Playfair, and former NHL referee Paul Stewart.
The cast provides authenticity that, when combined with the comedic and emotional aspects, creates a film that hits on all the correct notes and successfully translates Keenan’s life story from memoir to on-screen product.
As a sports fan, I love sports movies, however, a problem I have with them is that the film quality and styling occasionally take a backseat to the story itself. With Odd Man Rush, that isn’t a problem. The way that shots are framed and characters are introduced is reminiscent of one of my favorite directors, Wes Anderson.
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Wide-angle shots that feature a singular focus, often centered within the shot, establish visual symmetry that is aesthetically-pleasing and directs the viewer’s eyes to a particular emphasis. An example of this is when Sanders learns that he is being traded from a German team to a Swedish team. Upon arriving in Sweden, he is sitting at a bus stop waiting for a ride. There is nothing else in the scene except that bus stop, Sanders, and the female lead who becomes his love interest.
Another defining element is the breaking of the third wall, similar to mockumentary shows like The Office. In Odd Man Rush, these happen at specific moments during key scenes, usually when Sanders, who serves as the film’s narrator, is moving the action forward. He speaks to the camera, and by extent, the viewer, providing insight as to what he is thinking at a given moment.
Authentic Hockey Feel
Oftentimes, sports movies do one of two things: they either focus too much on the sports scenes and not enough on building the plot and developing characters, or vice versa. That isn’t the case with Odd Man Rush. Even though the film is considered a “hockey” movie, there isn’t an overabundance of hockey scenes, which works incredibly well. In fact, it fits the content of Keenan’s memoir, which focuses more on off-ice relationships, injuries, and personal growth than it does his actual hockey career.
The film’s relatively few hockey scenes aren’t neglected, however. The cast members genuinely look like real hockey players, thanks in part to their experiences in the game or due to their roles in previous films/television shows. This allows the film to come across as believable, something that many sports movies fail at.
The film’s shooting locations also helps with this authenticity. Because Sanders is playing in the lower leagues of Sweden and Germany, the rinks needed to have an environment that matched. This means that large, NHL-sized rinks wouldn’t have worked. Instead, Colgate University’s ice rink perfectly fills in for the European arenas. The smaller, somewhat dated building that naturally establishes a more intimate environment only continues to make the hockey scenes believable.
Emotions of Pursuing a Dream
The element that stands out the most is the emotions behind Sanders’ drive to be a professional hockey player. From the start, when he was a child, the viewer learns that his only goal is to become an NHL player, specifically a New York Rangers hockey player. So as he develops and proceeds through life, his focus is solely on seeing this dream become a reality. Regardless of injury setbacks or a need to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to continue playing, he never loses sight of this goal.
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Through Sanders’ travels and the various teams he plays for, the viewer learns just how temporal nearly everything in a hockey player’s life can be. The absence of guaranteed contracts or multi-year deals means that teammates and friends change on a near-constant basis, home is rarely the same place for more than a few consecutive months, and being on edge for fear of being cut or traded.
Oh, and this all occurs in a foreign country where the player’s native language may not be spoken with much consistency. And even when a player does find some security, the reality is that the other players on the team are in a similar situation and can be moved at any time. Sanders experiences all of this and allows the viewers to see the raw emotions of it all.
While playing for his final team, he develops deep friendships with his teammates and even establishes a romantic relationship with a local woman named Elin. Sanders’ friendships and his increasing love for Elin force him to acknowledge and consider a growing feeling: that perhaps his hockey dream isn’t one worth pursuing any longer. This creates the film’s final lasting emotion and element: goodbye.
In connection with how much of a hockey player’s life is temporal, Sanders continually conveys to the viewer that goodbyes are rarely a reality. Oftentimes, teammates leave without ever giving a warning or providing an opportunity to say farewell. This absence of goodbye re-appears in Sanders’ relationship with Elin and the film concludes with the viewer not having complete knowledge of what Sanders is going to do next.
Something Everyone Can Relate To
The biggest takeaway from Odd Man Rush is that it does an excellent job of establishing an atmosphere all viewers can relate to. Relatively few people ever have a realistic goal of becoming a professional athlete, however, everyone has a dream that they want to chase at all costs. This is especially true during childhood when everything seems like a possibility.
But then, when adulthood hits, we must face the reality that dreams sometimes come at a cost and must be reevaluated and reconsidered. This is exactly what Sanders encounters. The emotions of that decision and the realities that come with it are what make the movie so relatable and good. I cannot recommend this movie enough, even if you’re not a big hockey fan.
*Odd Man Rush is available digitally and on demand on Tuesday, September 1, 2020. Special thanks to Brianna Hurley with TARO PR for providing press materials and early access to the film