For over a decade, no topic in hockey has been more polarizing than fighting’s place in the game. While some support it, others cite perceptions about safety concerns and hockey’s image as reasons against it. The subject has been discussed by hockey commentators, executives at all levels and medical doctors, but until now, the most important voice has been left out of that discussion — the players.
In Ice Guardians, a documentary making its Tampa premiere in a one-night only showing at the Tampa Theatre on December 12, current and former players have finally gotten that voice. Their stories are told without the use of a narrator, giving viewers a raw look inside the minds and lives of hockey’s enforcers, or ice guardians, and the teammates they protected.
The purpose of the film is best described by producer and co-creator, Adam Scorgie.
“We are honoring the stories of guys that did it,” he said. “Because ultimately, whether you agree with fighting in hockey or not, is not the point of Ice Guardians. It’s here to honor the story of the men that did that role.”
“Even if you hate fighting or if you love fighting, it’s a huge part of the game’s history and the guys that did it are a big part of the game’s history as well. Their stories need to be told, just like Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky or any other icon that played.”[protected-iframe id=”fa81fb62a4230d2f1e1cc3ad06bd453a-114320562-46289989″ info=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/BzqIoa5z8gs” width=”560″ height=”315″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=””]
Since its world premiere in Toronto on September 12, Ice Guardians has been shown in theaters across Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom and has received praise from many film critics across the industry. In Scotland, a 475-seat theatre sold out in less than 24 hours and an encore screening was added to accommodate demand. Ticket sales aside, the film has also had a tremendous effect on people in and out of hockey, regardless of whether they are fans of the game or their stance on the issue of fighting before seeing the documentary.
Zenon Konopka, an enforcer during his nine-year NHL career, is part of Ice Guardians and appreciates how it explains fighting’s place in the game.
“I’ve been asked, ‘Why is there fighting in hockey?’” Konopka said, reflecting on conversations he’s had with friends or others not as familiar with the sport. “I tell them, ‘Watch this movie, because it’s going to answer your questions.’”
Ice Guardians tells all sides of the story, helping viewers receive a complete picture of fighting in hockey.
“It’s amazing for a hockey fan and die-hard hockey fan. It’s unbelievable,” Konopka said. “For a fan that kind of casually watches a game, it’s a great documentary to explain why fighting is in the game, what it does do and what it’s going to do if it’s taken out of the game. It shows both sides too…it’s very diplomatic with everything that goes on.”
Ice Guardians has moved some audience members in ways that have made them look at these players in a different light. It had that impact on a female audience member who approached Scorgie after a showing at a theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, earlier this year.
“She came up to me and said, ‘I have to tell you, I was one of those anti-fight people and I thought your film was really fair presenting both sides of the argument. I’m not going to say I’m ‘rah-rah’ for fighting now, but I certainly understand why these guys did what they did,’” Scorgie said, as he described the interaction.
“It’s hard for me to even explain in words how moving that is for the director (Brett Harvey) and I to hear,” Scorgie said, as he reflected on what that experience meant to him.
He’s also received numerous texts, phone calls and thank you’s from current and former players — something that becomes all the more rewarding when you learn about what it took to make Ice Guardians a reality.
Bringing the film to life was no easy task for Scorgie, Harvey and his team at Score G Productions. It took eight years from concept to delivery and they were met with adversity from the film industry and people’s perceptions about fighting’s place in the game. Looking back, it’s a fitting path for a film meant to give enforcer’s their own voice, players who earned their way into roles on professional teams, against the odds, by being willing to put their bodies on the line because of their love and passion for the game of hockey.
“Originally, I started (with the idea for Ice Guardians) because I went to high school with (former NHL enforcers) Scott Parker and Todd Fedoruk and really got to know them as people. I saw their quest to make their dreams of playing in the NHL come true,” Scorgie said, as he explained the idea for the film. “Like every enforcer, which Ice Guardians is about, they just love the game of hockey, like every other player.”
“But they learned once they got to those pro levels, that their skills were only going to take them so far, but their love for the game…their tenacity, would not go unheard. So a lot of them just molded into what they had to become in order to make that happen, which was the role of the enforcer, the tough player, or the ice guardian.”
For Scorgie, it was the relationships he had with these players, and their collective passion for this project, that helped drive him through the ups and downs that came with bringing Ice Guardians to life, a film that became increasingly harder to make a reality, given the narrative surrounding fighting in hockey over the last 10 years.
“You have down days…and then you get a great text from Parker or Fedoruk saying, ‘I believe in you man, keep it going…I’m here for you,’” Scorgie said, as he described the effect their support had on him during the filmmaking process.
“It really kept me going…I couldn’t let them down. I felt with how hard they fought to make their NHL dreams come true, that not doing something to honor their place in hockey history; I’d be letting them down.”
The support Scorgie received for Ice Guardians didn’t come just from enforcers. Former superstars like Hall of Famer Brett Hull also wanted to be a part of it. In the film, Hull provides his own story, giving viewers the chance to hear the tremendous impact tough guys like Kelly Chase and Tony Twist had on Hull’s ability to play at the highest level while he was a member of the St. Louis Blues during his respective NHL career.
Scorgie and his team wanted to present both points of view — those ‘for’ and ‘against’ fighting — so concerns about player safety and head injuries are also discussed during the documentary. Ice Guardians also utilizes Howard Bloom, a world-renowned Human Behavior Specialist and author, who is known in part for being the brilliant publicist for music artists including Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and many others. Bloom, who knew little about hockey when asked about being part of the documentary, provides insight into what makes someone want to take on the role of the enforcer.
The film allows viewers the opportunity to look beneath the surface and into the lives of these players — revealing individuals who are often some of the smartest and most respected people on the teams and in the leagues where they play — something that’s never been done before at this depth.
Scorgie, like everyone else, is not sure what the future holds for hockey’s enforcers, but he’s hopeful that their passion for the game is something that’s never lost.
“I hope that no matter where the game evolves…that the element enforcers bring — that willingness to do whatever, that passion to take two minutes of ice time a game and bare fist fight with no weight class just to play the game they love and they dreamed about as a kid….that passion and commitment to the team is not lost in the sport.”
While the role enforcers’ play in hockey may one day disappear, their passion for the game and the voice they’ve been given in Ice Guardians can never be taken away.
Ice Guardians will premiere during a one-night only showing at the Tampa Theatre on Dec. 12, 2016, at 7:00 PM. General admission tickets can be purchased at the theatre’s box office in advance for $42 and online at www.tampatheatre.org for $47 (including fees). The general admission ticket includes a showing of the film, and a post-showing question and answer session with former Tampa Bay Lightning players Chris Dingman, Todd Fedoruk and Zenon Konopka. VIP tickets are available for $105 ($114 online) and include a meet and greet with the players and the opportunity to take a photo and get their autographs. IGSM, LLC will be donating a portion of the proceeds to the Shjon Podein Children’s Foundation, Stop Concussions, the Xtra Ice Arena and Shoot for a Cure.
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