Photo: The North Country of Minnesota and their love of hockey are the subjects of the new documentary Hockeyland. Photo courtesy of Greenwich Entertainment / Provided by 2050 Group Publicity with permission.
hockeyland, the new documentary from director Tommy Haines, tells the real-life story of high school hockey players in Minnesota’s North Country. These teenagers are dedicated to their sport, and the communities and families around them are there to support every game and practice. It’s a part of the United States, just below the border with Canada, where hockey is in the blood of adoring fans.
“It’s an area I grew up playing hockey in northern Minnesota in the ’80s,” Haines said in a joint interview with co-producer Andrew Sherburne. “Andrew and I have done five feature films together, and it’s something I’ve wanted to go back to – sort of my roots – for a long time and see how things have changed and how things have stayed the same and a general curiosity of what boys playing hockey in Minnesota are going through today.
The film is currently playing in Minnesota, with more markets opening soon. Greenwich Entertainment, the doc’s distributor, recently reported that hockeyland was the No. 1 documentary in theaters last weekend.
“People may know Friday night lights or what football means to Texas or what basketball means to Indiana, that sort of thing,” Sherburne said. “That’s what hockey means to Minnesota. It’s woven into the fabric of these communities. It is part of their identity, and it is also a unique model. The way hockey works in Minnesota is in public arenas, and these kids often play for their public high schools. There are also private schools. They play for their community, so there’s really that feeling that they’re representing their communities and everyone is behind them. There is something absolutely unique to the United States in the way hockey is played in Minnesota.
Haines said one of the toughest challenges of filming over four months in northern Minnesota was building trust with the boys they were documenting. They are 16, 17 and 18 year old athletes, and the filmmakers wanted to have a positive relationship with them and their families.
“We had to work fast,” said the director. “With our latest film, save britainwe had months and months of time to meet [the central subject] and get to know him. With that, it had to be done in a few weeks, and we just did our best with very small crews. We always like to have maybe one, two people max on a set just to keep things very intimate. … I really think the beauty of this movie will be the intimacy with these kids and learning not just about their successes, but also about their struggles on and off the ice. Let’s hope that comes through.
Selecting players to profile also presented some challenges. They wanted a representative group of athletes, but also wanted to choose wisely because everyone loves a success story.
“It’s Minnesota hockey, so you want to have at least some representation of someone who’s going to be an elite-level hockey player who’s going to play beyond that in college and then maybe the pros. said Haines. “So we found this guy in Blake Biondi, who now plays Division I hockey in Duluth and is a Montrealer. [prospect], so that was a story that we wanted to make sure we told, the pressures that this kind of person has to deal with. But also [we were interested in] the everyday hockey guy. The other three boys we follow have sort of a variety of accounts of this story. A kid lives a block from Eveleth Racecourse, and he walks to and from the rink. It’s such a nostalgic thing to me because that’s how we all did it when I was a kid just put your stick and your skates over your shoulder and head out to the rink then we want make sure we have that hometown kid’s story as well. It was the goal. We probably started filming with 10-12 kids at the beginning and we narrowed down. I don’t want to call it a casting process, but something where it’s like, what are the stories here that are going to represent hockey in Minnesota? We have to find those boys who are going to do this. We finally landed on these four boys telling the story.
Sherburne was quick to point out that the coaches of hockeyland are also important to the overall narrative. They found a pair of charismatic coaches who were dedicated to their teams. The filmmakers were looking for real screen presence and different personalities, and they found both.
“So I think people really enjoyed getting to know them as well,” Sherburne said of the coaches. “They play such a vital role. We are incredibly lucky to have some great guys as coaches who were willing to give us access. Not only that, but we get some great Minnesota accents. You must have this.
By John Soltes / Editor / [email protected]
Hockeyland, directed by Tommy Haines, is produced by Haines, Andrew Sherburne and JT Haines. Click on here for more information.